SPEECH: HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE OPENING OF THE 102ND SESSION OF THE ACP (AFRICAN, CARIBBEAN AND PACIFIC) COUNCIL OF MINISTERS

The President of the 102nd ACP Council of Ministers,
Honourable Ministers,
The Secretary General of the ACP Group of States,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

Madam President,
We gather here today – the nations of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific – in friendship and solidarity. And especially in solidarity with the people of France, who are mourning the 130 people who were killed in the terrorist attacks eleven days ago.

We also express solidarity with Belgium, as its people also face down the terrorist threat. Our message to Islamic State is simple. We may flinch but we will never yield. You have united all of us from all faiths in horror but you have also united us in steely determination.

Fiji condemns these atrocities in the strongest possible terms. And we will do everything we can to contribute to the global opposition to terrorism.

There is no excuse for these acts of terror and especially in the name of God. Because this is not God’s way. The major religions of the world – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism – are at one on the sanctity of human life. And we must stand up to those who perversely twist the word of God to justify their crimes on earth.

Madam President, the destructive nature of Islamic State – its manipulation of religion to justify its murderous rampages, its suppression and exploitation of the people under its control and its celebration of death – is in stark contrast to the nobility of our own organisation.

We have formed the largest trading bloc in the world to empower the estimated one billion people within our borders. To bring them the benefits of development. To give them the means to improve their lives and those of their families. To replace poverty with prosperity. To give them a better future. To give them hope.

We enhance lives while Islamic State and other terrorist groups take them. We create opportunity while they destroy it. We bring people of different backgrounds together to celebrate our common humanity while they advocate division and hatred. In our patient collaboration lies the answer to the world’s challenges while they are a death cult that revels in misery and mass murder.

We have survived as an organisation for 40 years and are planning even greater cooperation in the years ahead – more trade, more development, more opportunity. Their days are numbered because they offer nothing but the blood of innocents and blaspheme – the word of God twisted to justify the unjustifiable.

Madam President, Fiji joins this gathering in reaffirming our determination to oppose the terrorist threat. And to pledge once again our allegiance to the ideals of the ACP Group – already the largest trading bloc in the world and soon to welcome our 80th member, South Sudan.

I’m delighted and honoured to address you at such a critical time – both for the world and our organisation. It is a time of both great challenge and great opportunity. And even for a small country like Fiji, events are moving quickly and we need to constantly adjust and adapt.

My current visit to Europe is a vivid illustration of the ever changing global environment and the need to actively seek out opportunities. In London on Friday, I addressed the International Sugar Council on the challenge of ensuring a sustainable future for the 200,000 Fijians who depend on our sugar cane industry – our second biggest revenue earner after tourism. Yesterday, I pressed Fiji’s case for better trade opportunities in successive meetings with EU commissioners and officials. Today, I am with you all as we continue forging a path forward for the ACP after the Cotonou Agreement expires in 2020. Tomorrow, I will be in Malta addressing the Commonwealth Business Forum on the transformation we are making to Fiji’s infrastructure. On Thursday, I will be in Paris for the Oceania Summit with France. On Friday, I will be back in Malta for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. And then I head back to Paris for what Fiji considers, is the most important gathering of all – the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.

Madam President, I know that many ACP members who are either Small Island Developing States or who have low lying areas exposed to the sea, share my alarm at the clear and present danger we face.

The extreme weather events accompanying climate change are already having a devastating impact on countries such as Fiji – whether they are parching droughts killing our agriculture or howling cyclones coming out of nowhere and killing our people and destroying our infrastructure.

Rising sea levels are already claiming large reaches of coastal land and forcing the evacuation of entire settlements. And in the case of three of our neighbours – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall islands – these sovereign countries, members of the United Nations, seem destined to sink beneath the waves altogether.

Never before in the entire sweep of human history has the Pacific been so threatened. Not from invasion and war nor the testing of nuclear weapons – all of which we endured last century – but from the sea. Rising as the icecaps melt and the average global temperature climbs because of the carbon emissions of the industrialised nations. From the factories that have made them rich. The energy they burn. The cars they drive. The planes they travel in.

We haven’t caused this crisis. They have. In fact, Fiji’s contribution to carbon emissions is 0.004%. Yet we are still willing to play our part. To cut this tiny amount by 30 per cent by 2030, almost entirely by embracing sustainable energy sources and reducing our use of fossil fuels to just one per cent.

We have also offered to give permanent refuge in a worst-case scenario to the people of our closest neighbours, Kiribati and Tuvalu. And we are comprehensively building our resilience to climate change – whether it is moving flooded settlements to higher ground or preparing our people for the even more devastating and unpredictable cyclones the scientists say are coming.

Our message in Paris next week will be simple. We are doing what we can to help ourselves. It is now time – high time – for the industrialised nations to do what they must do to save us and save our planet. They must cut their carbon emissions and by much more than many of them are planning to do.

We salute the people of Europe for committing themselves to a 40 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2030. But those nations that are baulking at drastic action – what I have called the coalition of the selfish – need to be prodded out of their complacency. It is five minutes to midnight and soon it will be too late.

The Pacific island nations are going to Paris next week with what we have called the Suva Declaration, a position we agreed on at a summit in the Fijian capital of members of the PIDF – the Pacific Islands Development Forum. This declaration calls on the global community to adopt legally binding measures to cap global warming at 1.5 per cent above pre-industrial levels instead of the 2 per cent that is currently envisaged. And we are asking every nation – including our ACP partners – to support this measure as the only viable way to stave off catastrophe.

Madam President, Honourable Ministers, Delegates. I beg you all to heed the voice of the Pacific and voices of other low-lying areas of the world. It is morally unacceptable to sacrifice our survival to maintain the current status in the developed and emerging nations. And history will judge us very harshly if at this point in time, we fail to act. To do what is necessary to save us. We who have not benefited from the riches of the industrial era, are not polluting the planet ourselves, yet who stand to lose the most. Whole islands. Whole countries. Our agriculture. Our lifestyle. Our economy. Our way of life.

We need the industrial nations to realise that if they don’t act, it will be to their ultimate cost. Because they are merely delaying the inevitable. Embrace a more sustainable energy future now and the pain will be far less than having to do it later. Embracing a clean, green future – as Fiji has – is actually a huge plus, a selling point for any nation in a world that increasingly values sustainable development. So I appeal to the industrialised nation to examine the clear benefits of acting now rather than leaving it until it is all too late.

Madam President, as well as ensuring our survival, it is equally vital that the Pacific nations in the ACP continue to enjoy the benefits of development. Which leads me to the current impasse in our negotiations with the European Union on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

The Pacific-ACP has an interim agreement but not a comprehensive agreement. Because the EU is adamant that negotiations on a comprehensive EPA cannot be concluded without a review of fisheries conservation and management measures. Whereas our view is that this issue – however important – should not stand in the way of a full agreement being reached.

Fiji believes that we urgently need to find a solution to this impasse that takes into account the commitments that we have made on fisheries conservation and the progress made thus far. We also need a high-level Ministerial meeting between the Pacific-ACP and EU not only on this issue but the issue of Papua New Guinea’s withdrawal from the comprehensive EPA negotiations.

Madam President, because of this impasse, The Pacific ACP States are effectively the only ACP States left without a comprehensive EPA. Or as some of my officials describe it – “we are EPA orphans”. And from our standpoint, we are being unfairly disadvantaged and our development impeded.

As you know, the intention of the EU’s EPAs with the ACP was to continue its historical trading relations with these regions after the expiration of the Cotonou Agreement. It is all about development. And when one region misses out because the negotiations are dragging on for too long, it obviously has an adverse effect on nations such as Fiji.

We have produced a detailed matrix of where any development assistance would be targeted under a full EPA. We are especially looking to these initiatives to build our nation’s trade capacity, address our trade-related infrastructure needs and all other issues related to the implementation of a full EPA. So there is a great deal at stake here. And I have appealed to the EU Commissioners and other officials I met here yesterday to assist us in facilitating a speedy solution to this impasse.

Madam President, Honourable Ministers, distinguished delegates. I imagine that by now, some of you are thinking that Frank is being frank. Well I make no apology for it. Fiji has found its voice on these issues. The Pacific has found its voice. And we intend to make our voices heard more strongly in the great forums of the world, including this one. Because there is far too much at stake to remain silent.

We are happy, friendly people who don’t like causing offence and are famous for our hospitality the world over. But perhaps we in the Pacific have been too Pacific for too long. When our islands are threatened. When our way of life is threatened. When we expect a fair deal in world trade and don’t always get it. When there are barriers to taking the Fijian-Made brand of goods and services to global markets and earning our people the rewards they deserve for their hard work. Then, I think it is time to speak up. Not with raised voices but with words of reason. Because for this Fijian, fair play extends way beyond the rugby field. And I think that Fiji and the other Pacific nations deserve a fairer hand than the industrialised nations – who hold all the cards – are currently dealing us.

For its part, Fiji will continue to raise its voice on behalf of all Pacific peoples and those in other parts of the developing world. We will maintain our foreign policy of being friends to all and enemies to none, although we will certainly urge a tough stance against nations that support terrorism.

We will continue our commitment to UN Peacekeeping, sending our troops far from our island home to put their lives on the line for the sake of vulnerable ordinary people in troubled parts of the world. And I can assure you that we intend to strengthen our engagement with multilateral forums such as this one.

Fiji is proud to have been a founding member of the ACP, a unique organisation that is 40 years young. Together, we have done much to improve the lives of the one-billion people around the world who look to us to provide them with empowerment and opportunity. And as we work on the blueprint to take our partnership with the EU beyond 2020, let us never forget that our ultimate responsibility is to them. An ordinary woman fetching water from a well in Africa. An ordinary fisherman in the Caribbean. A child in the Pacific heading off to school.

Madam President, Honourable Ministers, delegates, that is why we are here today in this great fellowship of nations spanning the continents. Asserting that the true path to genuine justice for disadvantaged people the world over isn’t through terrorism or armed struggle but economic development.

It was wonderful to have many of you in Fiji back in June for the 29th session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. Great days lie ahead for our organisation if we can stay united and focussed. And I now have much pleasure in declaring the 102nd session of the ACP Council of Ministers open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.