Melanesian delegations meet in Rarotonga

As this week’s program kicks off in Rarotonga, member states of the Pacific Island Forum have held sub-regional caucuses, to prepare for the week’s wide-ranging agenda.

Leaders and delegates from Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia met in three separate sessions on Monday morning, to co-ordinate policies and perspectives. Leonard Louma, Director General of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, welcomed Melanesian delegations to their initial meeting.

However some key MSG leaders are absent from this week’s summit. Prime Minister James Marape is represented by minister Justin Tchatchenko, while Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has stayed in Honiara in the lead up to this month’s Pacific Games – a major regional undertaking for the Melanesian nation. Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade Jeremiah Manele will represent the Sogavare government in Rarotonga.

After the recent devastation caused by Cyclone Lola – a Category 5 cyclone that hit Vanuatu last month – Prime Minister Charlot Salwai has also stayed in Port Vila to manage post-disaster operations. The loss and damage caused by the cyclone, the third to hit Vanuatu this year, is high on the agenda for Vanuatu’s delegation to the Forum, led by Climate Minister Ralph Regenvanu.

In an article published to coincide with the meeting, Regenvanu highlighted his country’s commitment to climate action: “Vanuatu has been at the forefront of climate action – we led a coalition of countries to secure an advisory opinion on climate change from the United Nations International Court of Justice, and we are working towards a fossil fuel free Pacific.”

“We understand that climate action may require short term adjustments and are willing to do that,” he added. “I’m not confident that all countries share our resolve. The Pacific islands are in desperate need of genuine allies who will stand with us in the fight for survival. Australia, with its financial resources and international influence, should be such an ally. However for Australia to be seen as a credible leader of climate talks, it must first resolve glaring inconsistencies in its climate policies.”

The delegation from New Caledonia is led by President Louis Mapou, who is eager to extend his nation’s links with other Forum member countries. Mapou met on the weekend with Forum Chair Mark Brown, the Cook Islands Prime Minister, to discuss New Caledonia’s contribution to the region’s 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent.

France’s Overseas Minister Gerald Darmanin will arrive in Noumea later this month for ongoing discussions over New Caledonia’s political status. The issue of self-determination and decolonisation is not on the formal agenda of the Forum plenary this week, but the New Caledonia delegation will brief other leaders and officials about the status of current negotiations with France, even as they seek to build stronger ties with the region.

As the outgoing Forum chair for 2022-23, Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka joined the MSG meeting to discuss this week’s agenda, with debates looming over climate policy, nuclear legacies, and the changing leadership of the Forum Secretariat. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Rabuka met with members of the large Fijian community who work in the Cook Islands, staffing the country’s many hotels and tourist resorts.

Before the Forum officially opens, delegations will also hold preliminary meetings of the Pacific ACP group and the Smaller Islands States (SIS) caucus. After an official opening ceremony, leaders will attend a plenary meeting on Wednesday, before travelling to the island of Aitutaki for the Forum leaders retreat on Thursday.