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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Britain and International Development: the Pacific and Beyond

Thursday, October 18, 2007

During a Ministerial visit to the Pacific region, Meg gave the following speech at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The event was co-hosted by the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and the Pacific Cooperation Foundation.


Ladies and Gentlemen, Kia ora katoa, Talofa lava.


I am delighted to be here with you today. This is my first visit to the Pacific region since I was appointed a Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in July. However, it is not my first trip to New Zealand I came five years ago as part of a delegation of UK MPs from our Education Select Committee, to investigate your education system and see what we could learn from the similar challenges that we face. Investigations apart, I had a terrific time then and am being made very welcome this time.


Our two countries share many bonds of friendship, and like friends we sometimes fall out! But I’m glad to be here when the strength and depth of the links between us is clear to all. We have a shared history, a strong sense of shared values and an increasing flow of people between our two countries. Around a quarter of a million British citizens live in New Zealand and up to 100,000 New Zealanders are in the UK.


Around 5,000 of your young people visit the UK every year for their "OE" (Overseas Experience).  Many stay and make valuable contributions, especially in financial services and the creative arts. You probably know that more and more Brits are emigrating here - we make up about 30% of all your new immigrants, the highest for a generation.


Earlier today I have been discussing a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues with Members of Parliament including David Cunliffe, Phil Goff and Nanaia Mahuta.


Our two countries face similar challenges and we have similar approaches to finding solutions. One of the most important aspects of our relationship is the formal Dialogue process through which our two governments exchange ideas, experience and people. The Dialogue is based on four key themes

  • sustainability and climate change,
  • welfare reform,
  • communities and multiculturalism, and
  • public sector reform.   

As you know, we work very closely together to promote peace and security. At the UN, we welcome New Zealand’s support over calls for a swift return to democracy in Burma and a united condemnation of the appalling events of recent weeks.  We have also jointly sponsored the Small Arms Limitation Treaty. New Zealand and UK forces are engaged together in Afghanistan and, until recently, in Bosnia.  We also shared your pride at the award in July of the first New Zealand Victoria Cross since 1945, to Corporal Willie Apiata.


One of the purposes of my visit to the region is to attend the Pacific Islands Forum Partners Dialogue. Early tomorrow morning, I will be travelling on to Nuku’alofa in Tonga to engage on the political, economic and social development agenda.  I look forward to meeting Pacific Leaders especially after what has been a rather turbulent year. The UK is a long way from the Pacific, but fortunately our two countries objectives are the same - we want to see sustained economic growth and development.    

The Pacific Islands Forum is doing some good work promoting its self-declared objective of regionalism. As you know, RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, came from the Forum. Without this initiative the Solomon Islands would be in a much less stable position. It is however facing challenges from the host government; I hope this can be resolved so it can continue to assist the development needs of the people of those islands.


The Forum has made impressive efforts in Fiji. The Eminent Person’s Group and Joint Working Group showed strong regional understanding and leadership. The EU agreement with Fiji is designed to encourage high standards of behaviour with a roadmap back to democracy, with key milestones along the way. We are counting on those commitments to sustainable democracy, respecting human rights and the rule of law being met, enabling Fiji to resume its seat at the Councils of the Commonwealth. But, as you know, there are significant economic carrots and sticks in the EU’s agreement too, which I’ll come back to.


You may be aware that the UK and other EU partners are increasingly using the EU to pool our development resources. The advantage for Pacific Island Countries is that they negotiate with the EU a coherent and substantial five-year programme of development rather than having to pull together smaller contributions from each member state. The EU is now the second largest donor across the Pacific. I am pleased to say that the UK contribution is around 15% of the next 200m five-year programme of assistance. 


With our network of High Commissions in the region we have been able to support some very worthwhile bilateral projects. Last year, in partnership with Victoria University, we supported an environmental project in Vanuatu. Using satellite imagery and ground-level inspection, the project provided the government of Vanuatu with extensive and detailed maps of its forestry resource, highlighting existing forest cover, the extent of deforestation and forest degradation.


The High Commission in Wellington also funded the installation of weather monitoring equipment throughout the Pacific region, carried out in partnership with the New Zealand Metrological Service. This system will provide the region with an early warning system for extreme weather events. It will also provide valuable data for global climate modelling, which is vital if we are to assess the forecast extent of climate change and our ability to adapt to its consequences.


We also support the production of monthly Pacific-wide radio programmes from our High Commission in Suva. The 15-minute radio programme is one of the most effective means by which the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat can pass news and information to its members. 


Both our countries are determined to see the Pacific Islands States achieve security, but they need help if they are to do so. The European Union is in the final stages of arranging an Economic Partnership Agreement with Pacific Countries designed to support economic co-operation and integration.  Pacific countries negotiate as a group.  This process ensures a better outcome than could be achieved individually and institutionalises stronger regional governance.


I have already mentioned that increasingly the UK makes its contribution as part of the European Development Fund. The programming for the next round of the Fund is due to be finalised by the end of the year and is for economic and social development.  But development cannot be kept separate from politics. Take the example of Fiji, where the EU has quite rightly applied conditionality to the 20 million euros which it will provide to enable the re-structuring of the Fiji sugar industry. This acts as a major lever in support of the international community’s pressure to restore democracy.


We want to ensure that the funding is a means for positive influence in terms of good governance, as well as contributing to development. But whilst recognising the importance of development assistance in the Pacific, we need to set it in context of global development demands.


The agreement in 2000 to establish the Millennium Development Goals, was, as Gordon Brown told the UN in July, “a remarkable moment - the whole world coming together as one, the leadership of the poorest countries to be empowered by the obligations accepted by the richest. All of us accepting our shared responsibilities to work together for change."


But the goals we set in 2000 are not being met. Unless we take urgent action they will not be met by the deadline we have imposed of 2015.  Some will not even be met this century. This is a real challenge for all of us.


Progress has been made on lifting people out of poverty, with the economic growth of China and India contributing enormously. However, sub-Saharan Africa, though it has made progress in some areas, is in several important areas further from the Millennium Development Goals than it was in 2000. If we are committed to the goals we accepted in 2000, we have to take this very seriously. 


The UK’s official development assistance has trebled since 1997, from 2.1 billion to 6.85 billion a year in 2006. The figure for this financial year of 7.5 billion makes the UK the world’s second largest bilateral donor government. We shall meet our objective of reaching the UN’s target of putting 0.7% of our GDP into Overeas Development Assistance by 2013. But, inevitably, the bulk of this must go to the areas where it will make most difference. We have adopted a policy that 90% of our development aid should go to the least developed countries.


There are other issues where we can work closely together; climate change is perhaps the most important. Gordon Brown and Helen Clark had further discussions on this earlier this month in London. For many Pacific Island States the effects of climate change and specifically rising sea levels will be devastating. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that sea levels will rise by about half a meter by 2100 due to global warming.


The challenges we face today are truly global in scope poverty, climate change, international security. These issues affect us all - whether we live and work in London, Glasgow, Wellington or Tuvalu. The world is getting smaller. Relationships across regions are more fluid, but even in a rapidly changing world, old friendships run deep.


The government of the UK, the people of the UK, consider New Zealand an old and valued friend. You are an important ally with whom we can tackle challenges that face both this region and the wider world. I look forward to learning more about the challenges in the Pacific in the coming days at the Pacific Islands Forum.


Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou. 

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