Honourable Prime Minister Bainimarama,
Honourable Heads of State and Government,
His Excellency Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly,
Valued multistakeholder partners, and,
Friends of the oceans and seas.
It is a great pleasure to be among regional family and friends from near and afar, drawn together by our shared ocean – The Pacific – and the importance of ensuring its health, productivity and resilience to sustain our way of life, today and for the generations to come.
Let me thank Fiji for the laudable arrangements for this important meeting and for the hospitality extended to my delegation and I.
We would also like to commend the development partners for understanding our challenges and for their generous support that has made it possible for us to convene here.
The tragedy of the Commons, as reflected in the 2015 First World Oceans Assessment, clearly demonstrates mankind’s abuse, carelessness and greed resulting in the declining health of our shared oceans and seas.
This is worrisome and we need a paradigm shift now.
As stewards of large oceans states, we are duty bound to ensure that our prime asset, the Pacific Ocean, must remain healthy and never be undervalued.
The UN Oceans Conference on the implementation of SDG 14 this June and the regional preparatory dialogue are indeed timely and highly important. Its promise must be harnessed for our people’s benefit, now and in future.
It is also an opportunity to deliver on the promises it holds not only for SDG 14 but also for the 2030 Agenda as an integrated whole.
As champions of SDG 14, the Pacific region must continue to take bold leadership and meaningful ownership to set high benchmarks for the world that now looks to us to show the pathway on the oceans agenda.
Our peoples future lies within the ocean and seas that surround our nations just as it has for generations. It is our spinal cord.
The health of our oceans and the marine resources is not just about what we do in our homes but also depends on what happens beyond our maritime boundaries.
It is therefore imperative that the Call to Action for the Oceans Conference must be bold, transformative and practical not just business as usual.
An important sector for our countries and region is fisheries.
It supports national economies, provides for many of our peoples lives and livelihood including putting our children to school, creates employment opportunities for our women and supports our health, and enables key infrastructure development.
In doing so, it enables our national efforts for sustainable development. Not only that but it also has significant cultural and traditional values and heritage associated with certain fish species.
These intrinsic links cannot be taken for granted.
This is also why we have prioritised and set regional frameworks such as the Framework for Pacific Oceanscape, the Pacific Regional Fisheries Roadmap and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, which complement our national efforts.
Harmful fisheries subsidies however, present serious challenges and impact our sustainable development efforts.
Different kinds of subsidies have different kinds of impact on the fish stocks targeted by the subsidised industry.
While we welcome useful subsidies such as those used for management enhancement measures and marine science research, which have positive effect on our ability to sustainably manage fishery resources, we are opposed to harmful subsidies that promotes capacity-enhancing, including those for building fishing boats and fuel.
These promote inequity for small island developing countries, and also serve as disinvestment in the resources by motivating overcapacity and overfishing and undermine fish stock sustainability.
As many of our countries in the region have limited capacities to effectively foster and undertake national and regional fisheries sustainability measures, fisheries subsidies further compound our efforts.
These include placing financial and technical burdens on us to deal with difficult fisheries subsides negotiations at the global level, including particularly the WTO, and which continue to remain unresolved due to international fisheries politics.
This is undesirable costs for our countries with limited resources.
We therefore need to better address fisheries subsidies, especially those that are harmful for us, as well as their impact on the health of fish stocks and marine life in our regional waters and what it does to our economies and how it affects our lives.
Turning to the Call to Action Zero Draft, with respect to fisheries subsidies, the emphasis needs to be changed from the current sole referral of this issue to the World Trade Organisation process and denying other important multilateral fora such as the General Assembly to consider it.
Whilst we understand the political sensitivities involved in fisheries subsidies, we however, need to address it also outside of the WTO because of international fisheries politics that continues to slow down and hold back negotiations, fostering prolonged inaction and lack of enthusiasm in the WTO.
Furthermore, the omission from the Call to Action for appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developing countries in the context of the World Trade Organisation fisheries subsidies negotiations must be corrected.
The special circumstances of developing and less developed states is already multilaterally agreed and this is reflected in SDG 14.6.
We must therefore ensure consistency between SDG14.6 and the Call to Action final outcome.
For our part, we are investing substantively in our fisheries sector and related areas through appropriate policy and legislative measures to address sustainable fisheries practices including combating harmful subsidies.
At the global and regional level we are working with likeminded countries to address the issue of fisheries subsides at the WTO.
To this end, we intend to further take this matter up at the 11th World Trade Organizations Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December 2017.
We would therefore encourage WTO members of our region to cooperate and ensure our fisheries interests including combating harmful subsidies is strongly advocated in the WTO.
In closing, no one single country or entity can restore the health of the oceans singularly.
But of primacy is the importance of multistakeholder partnership that is inclusive, transparent and accountable.
This needs to underpin the core elements of the Call to Action and could be a game changer in the rescue of the oceans and seas predicament.
Complementing this is the necessity to ensure the Means of Implementation, including financing, capacity building and marine science, knowledge and technology transfer, particularly for Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries remain essential and deserve focused attention.
Honourable Prime Minister Bainimarama,