Press Statement - 5 August, 2009 - The situation in Fiji remains a concern for the Pacific Islands Forum as Leaders gather for their 40th Forum in the Australian northern city of Cairns.

In his speech at the official opening of the Forum at the Cairns Convention Centre today, Outgoing Forum Chair and Premier of Niue, Hon. Toke Talagi, MP said much has happened in the region in the last year during his tenure as Chair of the Forum.

"The onset of the global financial crisis imposed on the region a new challenge to our Governments and peoples. This is a crisis with potentially devastating implications for our national and regional prosperity. Already the fundamentals of our economies including national abilities for revenue generation have been affected. Falling remittances and weakened export demand have affected the performance of our external sectors while within local economies, low production in the real sector has forced many job losses," said Mr Talagi.

"In this regard, I endorse the views that any meaningful assistance by our development partners must therefore largely constitute direct budgetary support. I'm grateful, as I'm sure all our Leaders are, that the theme for this year's Forum focuses on the Global Economic Crisis which hopefully will pave the way for increased attention to the necessity of collective actions to effectively address this calamity. "

Premier Talagi said on climate change, the Leaders commitments in the Niue Declaration express the region's collective aspirations for effective actions to be taken at national, regional and international levels.

"This is a real problem and one which if not reversed threatens our livelihoods. Because we are all affected, it serves our common interest to continue to push for increased global action on climate change. I would imagine that we must hasten our preparations to ensure we can inspire a better successor to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen in 2012."

The Outgoing Forum Chair added that for the region climate change will remain a persistent issue.

"While all of us are affected, the situation for small island states is quite worrisome. For them, choices such as resettlement must be considered seriously and I wonder whether the Forum is ready to commence formal discussion on this matter. "

At the political level, Premier Talagi said the Biketawa Declaration has changed the lives of the citizens of Solomon Islands under RAMSI(Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) and under the PRAN (Pacific Regional Assistance for Nauru)for citizens of Nauru.

"Thanks largely to the fine leadership by the Australian Government and support extended by New Zealand and all the participating countries. Both these regional cooperative interventions, in particular RAMSI, have won admiration from other international organizations including the UN."

But the Forum Outgoing Chair said: "Against this admirable success, the Fiji situation remains a concern. The regime which assumed power illegally has clearly refused to adhere to the Leaders' requirements imposed on Fiji when Leaders met in Port Moresby in January this year. As a direct consequence of non-compliance, Fiji has been suspended from participation in any Forum meetings as of 2 May 2009.

"We are deeply concerned for the welfare of the citizens of Fiji and remain ready to assist Fiji return to democracy soon but will not accept a prolonged rule by the regime. Their self-imposed roadmap for elections to be held in 2014 is unacceptable and is strongly denounced. Perhaps citizens of Fiji must now rise up to challenge the undemocratic rule of the military regime and restore democracy for the sake of their children's future. After all the people of Fiji must be responsible for constructing their own destiny," said Premier Talagi

On regional cooperation, Mr Talagi said, the Pacific Plan implementation is progressing quite well.

"The collaborative assistance extended by CROP Agencies, national Governments and development partners to support the implementation of the Plan has allowed for this good progress. The trade initiatives are understandably stalling but we should see some progress after the Leaders' meeting this year."

"So despite a difficult period, I'm pleased that we are still making good progress with the implementation of the Pacific Plan. I acknowledge the role of the CROP Agencies, our development partners and national governments in making this success possible," Mr Talagi said.

"With so many challenges ahead, the leadership of the Forum Chair will be critical and we are all pleased and assured that Prime Minister Rudd is assuming that role. Under his leadership, the Forum will rise to these challenges and will be stronger to continue to service the needs of the membership."

The Outgoing Forum Chair thanked the Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade and his staff for supporting him during his tenure as Chair.

"It was a difficult time as we grappled with the Fiji issue but thankfully the guidance and efficiency of the services lend to me by the Secretary General ensured I was able to fulfill my responsibilities as Chair."

Prime Minister of Australia, Hon. Kevin Rudd took over as Chair of the 16th member Pacific Islands Forum after the official opening of the 40th Forum today.

Leaders held a plenary session after the opening ceremony ahead of their Retreat tomorrow.