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Leaders converge on Pacific Islands forum

Leaders from 14 island countries, Australia and New Zealand are arriving in Vanuatu ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum. MiNDFOOD reports.

The meeting will review progress towards a regional free trade agreement and examine plans to protect Pacific fisheries.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key will says the deepening and strengthening of the country’s relations with its closest neighbours in the Pacific is a high priority for the Government.

“The annual Forum leaders’ meeting is the main event in the Pacific calendar. It’s a valuable opportunity for regional counterparts to discuss how we can work together to address the issues and challenges facing our region,” Mr Key says.

The Pacific’s response to the global financial crisis, and other social and economic issues, will be under the spotlight at the forum.

“The region’s progress in advancing the Millennium Development Goals, which set ambitious outcomes to be achieved by 2015, including poverty reduction, fostering growth, and addressing maternal and child mortality, will be an important subject for review,” he says.

Julia Gillard last month announced she would not attend the summit of regional leaders because of the election campaign.

Instead Foreign Minister Stephen Smith will represent Australia.

Australia – the outgoing chair of the forum – placed “great importance on its ongoing close and friendly ties with Pacific countries”, Mr Smith said yesterday.

Although four island leaders, including Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Michael Somare, 12 days ago backed the “road map to democracy” of Fiji’s military regime, which was last year suspended from the forum, it remains unlikely that this week’s meeting will restore Suva’s status.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s ruler, said that following the “Engaging Fiji” meeting he hosted – which concluded with the support for his road map – “I am happy with the country’s status” outside the forum.

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