Seven years after the Pacific’s first master strategy for regional co-operation and integration came into force, there is now plan to re-launch it into a regional framework on regional integration.
“There needs to be a reinvigoration of the Pacific Plan to be able to quicken the pace for regional integration, said Feleti Teo, the deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
Teo said the “emphasis is on strengthening the political process, providing Leaders with the opportunity to have the right conversation on the issue.”
From their region wide consultation, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) led by Sir Mekere Morauta of Papua New Guinea discovered that the region has done reasonably well in regional co-operation.
“The Pacific Plan provided the platform for the region to co-ordinate efforts, share and pool resources and provide support to countries that are not able to provide certain technical services through the work that regional organisations provide.
However, little progress was made in regional integration in the last decade, according to the interim findings of the EPG review team
Teo said the team found integration was particularly very slow in the area of regional trade.
“The trade agreements amongst countries, the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) is still not happening and its ratification process is taking a long time. The trade and development co-operation agreement between Forum Island Countries and Australia and New Zealand (PACER Plus) is moving slowly and it’s almost ten years and the region has not reached an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, said Teo.
The review wants Forum Leaders to have a more hands-on role in determining the regional agenda.
“They found that regional processes under the Pacific Plan are too bureaucratic. Officials are clogging the Leaders agenda. They want Leaders to be given the space to decide and focus more enthusiastically on regional integration.
In addition, the review team is asking for a major overhaul of the Pacific Plan.
“They want to reform the Pacific Plan Action committee (PPAC) and change it into a more business entity, with Board of Directors to manage the new framework, said Teo
Oversight of the Pacific Plan is provided by the PPAC, a committee of senior foreign affairs officials from Forum Island Countries whose role is to review implementation of the Pacific Plan and provide high-level advice to Leaders on strengthening regional cooperation and integration.
“The idea is to streamline the political process and minimize the control of officials of the agenda and allow leaders to decide what they want to discuss
Teo said the Forum Secretariat was not involved in the review. It was an entirely independent exercise.
“We welcome the review. There were some very good recommendations but there are a lot of details still missing because the final report is not available.
“The original expectation was that a formal report was to be made to the Forum Officials Committee when they met in Suva last month to collectively consider the report and make necessary recommendations.
However, that didn’t happen and the EPG will brief Leaders on Wednesday here in Majuro to present key recommendation to include in their final report.
“The justification of taking this approach is that they don’t want to finalise their report until they are absolutely sure that they have the political backing for some of the recommendations.
“The briefing is to solicit some guidance from leaders on some of the recommendations.
The Pacific Plan was endorsed by Leaders in Port Moresby in 2005.