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Angelo, Tony --- "The Pacific Islands Forum 2008" [2008] NZYbkIntLaw 32; (2008) 6 New Zealand Yearbook of International Law 365

Last Updated: 9 February 2019


Tony Angelo[∗]


All went well at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Niue in August 2008. This despite the pre-meeting concerns about the physical and logistical difficulties presented by holding the Forum in Niue.
Significant items of business at the meeting included the Pacific Plan, the situation in Fiji, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), and the regional institutional framework review.
The Pacific Plan received extended treatment in Annex A to the Forum Communiqué (the Communiqué).[1] That Annex makes clear that the Pacific Plan is indeed a work in progress and is still mostly an indication of commitment to future action. A pre-Forum meeting in the Cook Islands in July had considered progress with the implementation in the Pacific Plan and a special committee, the Pacific Plan Action Committee (PPAC), was appointed with responsibility for overseeing implementation of the Pacific Plan.[2] The press statement for that July meeting referred to the need to improve existing regional institutional arrangements.[3] This was reflected in the Communiqué; in paragraph 20 it was noted that all work on new institutional arrangements was to be done in time for the 2009 Leaders Meeting and implementation was to commence no later than 1 January 2010. No mention was made of ratification of the 2005 Agreement[4] on the organisation of the Forum itself.
The Pacific Plan is now up for its first three year review and advertisements inviting consultants to tender for the review job have been published. The description of the Pacific Plan given in the advertisement of 10 September 2008[5] is:

The Pacific Plan is an attempt by the region to consolidate a group of responses to the ongoing challenges facing the Pacific. While not the first attempt to foster greater regional cooperation and integration, the Pacific Plan represents the first attempt to group these regional efforts under one broad framework.

Annex A of the Communiqué also comments on ‘land management and conflict minimisation guiding principles’. The concern in the 12 principles elaborated there is to improve the management of customary land and to maximise its economic use for the benefit of all who have interests in the land. The improvement of leasing arrangements and the prospect of implementing legislating systems are clearly identified in the set of principles.
Connected with the Pacific Plan, through its relationship to ‘good governance’, is the initiative of the Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions (PASAI).[6] This project was coordinated by the Forum Secretariat and funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Australian Government’s Overseas Aid Program (AUSAID). The concern of the body will be to ‘enable the public accounts of participating countries to be audited in a timely manner to high standards’.[7] PASAI will also deliver training programmes and establish peer review between audit offices.
The Forum Leaders Meeting in 2007 was marked by the presence of the Fiji coup leader and the absence of the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands. In Niue, in 2008, the Fiji coup leader was absent but the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands was present.
The Forum leaders were strongly critical of both the absence of Fiji from the Forum meeting and the reneging by Fiji on its word to hold elections by March 2009.[8] The Forum Leaders Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji is to meet again before the end of 2008 and the leaders will then consider whether special measures, consistent with paragraph 2(iv) of the Biketawa Declaration,[9] should be taken, and whether in particular to suspend Fiji from Forum participation. The reaction to the Communiqué by the Government of Fiji was to reject outright the threat implied by the Forum leaders’ statement.[10]
The situation in regards to Solomon Islands was a happier one. The Forum Ministerial Standing Committee (FMSC) in respect of RAMSI indicated progress towards the establishment of a ‘Partnership Agreement’ to be entered into between the Government of Solomon Islands and RAMSI.[11] The FMSC will meet again early in 2009; in the meantime, it was reported that the Australian Government is proceeding with the preparation of its resource strategy in respect of RAMSI for the period 2009-2013.[12]
Little or no mention is made in the Communiqué of relations with the European Union (EU). There was however, a meeting in July in the Cook Islands of the Forum Trade Ministers[13] which was concerned with the development of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER)[14] towards PACER Plus, the possible establishment of the office of a Chief Trade Advisor and related matters. Clearly, the EU trade relationship is a most important one and there is continuing intense activity on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations. The Pacific Islands Forum Troika was scheduled to meet with the EU officials in Brussels in September 2008.[15]
In relation to future membership of the Forum, the application by Wallis and Futuna for associate membership was held over for two years because ‘the territory’s governance arrangements are still evolving to a point where it can determine its own policy on regional issues’.[16] The territory will therefore continue in the Forum as an observer for the time being.
The Forum Secretariat Secretary General for four and a half years, Greg Urwin, resigned from his office for reasons of ill health in May 2008 and sadly later passed away.[17] His deputy, Feleti Teo, acted as Secretary General until the appointment of Tuiloma Neroni Slade as Secretary General by the Forum leaders in Niue in August. Neroni Slade is an experienced Samoan lawyer who comes to the post after a distinguished diplomatic career.
The Forum Leaders Meeting for 2009 will be hosted by Australia and that for 2010 by Vanuatu.

[∗] Professor of Law, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
[1] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Forum Communiqué: Thirty-Ninth Pacific Islands Forum, Alofi, Niue, 19-20 August 2008 (2008) <
FINAL%202008%20Communique.pdf> at 7 November 2008.
[2] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, ‘Pacific Plan Action Committee Convenes’ (Press Statement 67/08, 21 July 2008) <http://www/> at 7 November 2008.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Agreement establishing the Pacific Islands Forum, opened for signature 27 October 2005, [2005] ATNIF 28 (not in force).
[5] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Invitation to Undertake the Pacific Plan’s First Three Year Review (2008) <
jobs-archive/consultancies-archive/pacific-plans-first-three-year-review.html> at 25 November 2009.
[6] PASAI website is <> at 25 November 2009.
[7] Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, ‘Audit Initiative Aims to Improve Public Spending in Pacific Region’ (Press Statement 100/08,18 September 2008) <
lic-spending.html> at 7 November 2008.
[8] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Forum Communiqué, above n 1, [15].
[9] Biketawa Declaration (2002), Forumsec, <
Biketawa%20Declaration,%2028%20October%202000.pdf > at 26 November 2009. Para 2:

2. Forum Leaders recognised the need in time of crisis or in response to members’ request for assistance, for action to be taken on the basis of all members of the Forum being part of the Pacific Islands extended family. The Forum must constructively address difficult and sensitive issues including underlying causes of tensions and conflict (ethnic tensions, socio-economic disparities, lack of good governance, land disputes and erosion of cultural values). To this end, the Secretary General in the future after consulting the Forum Chairman should urgently initiate the following process:

(i) Assess the situation, make a judgment as to the significance of the developments and consult the Forum Chair and such other Forum Leaders as may be feasible to secure approval to initiate further action;

(ii) Consult the national authorities concerned regarding assistance available from the Forum; and

(iii) Advise and consult with the Forum Foreign Ministers, and based on these consultations, undertake one or a combination of the following actions to assist in the resolution of the crisis:

(a) A statement representing the view of members on the situation;

(b) Creation of a Ministerial Action Group;

(c) A fact finding or similar mission;

(d) Convening an eminent persons group;

(e) Third party mediation;

(f) Support for appropriate institutions or mechanisms that would assist a resolution; and

(g) The convening of a special high level meeting of the Forum Regional Security Committee or an ad hoc meeting of Forum Ministers.

(iv) If after actions taken under (iii) the crisis persists, convene a special meeting of Forum Leaders to consider other options including if necessary targeted measures.
[10] Michael Field, ‘Fiji’s Bainimarama defiant: We go alone’, Dominion Post (Wellington), 22 August 2008.
[11] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Forum Communiqué, above n 1, [16].
[12] Australian Government, Forum Ministerial Standing Committee Meeting on RAMSI sets up Officials Working Group to Complete Partnership Framework (2008) <
geo/solomon_islands/RAMSI_0708.html> at 30 November 2009.
[13] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, ‘Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting Concludes’ (Press Statement 72/08, 22 July 2008) <> at 7 November 2008.
[14] Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, opened for signature 18 August 2001, 2198 UNTS 171 (entered into force 3 October 2002).
[15] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, ‘First EU-Pacific Islands Forum Troika Ministerial Meeting’ (Press Statement 96/08, 4 September 2008), at <
pages.cfm/newsroom/press-statements/2008/first-eu-pacific-islands-forum-troika-ministerial-meeting.html> at 30 November 2009.
[16] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Forum Communiqué, above n 1, [27].

[17] See his eulogy on the Forum Website at <> at 2 December 2009.

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