World / Asia-Pacific

Leaders gather for Pacific Islands Forum

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-08-29 15:33

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands - Amid a spectacular display of traditional Pacific drumming and singing, leaders of the 15 nations of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) were warned of the dire problems that their nations face as they gathered in the Cook Islands for their annual meeting Tuesday.

Officially opening the meeting, PIF Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade said the region was looking to the leaders for guidance as they faced unprecedented challenges.

"Economic growth of the forum countries continues to be lower than potential growth performance; climate change remains the single greatest threat; and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is unheeded. There is a host of others," said Slade.

"These are times of challenging and far-reaching change. The demands of humanity are taking their toll, putting stress in particular on the ocean and its resources. Our countries are at the forefront of the struggle against climate change and recurring natural disasters."

The theme of this year's meeting, "Large Ocean Island States -- the Pacific Challenge," was particularly timely after the Rio+20 climate talks in Brazil, he said.

The outcomes of Rio+20 had "reaffirmed the special case for small island developing states for sustainable development, acknowledged climate change as one of the greatest global challenges of our time and gave very significant emphasis to the importance of conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and their resources."

"We must seize and build on these outcomes," said Slade.

The leaders' discussions should center on the Pacific Plan --" the master strategy for regional cooperation and integration."

"The Pacific Plan provides a high-level framework to articulate the priorities for the region and is now well recognized by development partners in the wider international community," he said.

The plan was due for renewal next year and regional and international trade issues were high on the region's agenda, as were economic development and women's equality, he said.

"The meeting this year is an invitation to acknowledge the strength, the insight, the determination and wisdom of Pacific women past and present. We need to continue with greater clarity to support and encourage concerted efforts underway to effectively address the entrenched disadvantages that many women face in participation in education, economic opportunities and leadership and social advancement."

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