May I start by congratulating Team Fiji for a phenomenal hosting of the 51st Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meetings held in Suva last week. To the Hon. Josia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister, the Government, and the people of Fiji - vinaka vaka levu. Thank you for your tireless and generous hosting efforts and warm bula hospitality that has played an integral part in ensuring success as our leaders gathered in person for the first time since Tuvalu, three years ago.
To Prime Minister Bainimarama, you have my gratitude and that of my people for your exemplary leadership as Chair of our Pacific Islands Forum over the last eleven months. Our renewed unity and solidarity as Forum vuvale, as family, is a testament to your leadership and our Pacific way. It is affirmation that mana and power of talanoa and our unified commitment as Pacific leaders to ensuring the security and prosperity of our Pacific peoples.
The theme that was chosen by Fiji for this 51st Forum in the year of our 50th anniversary, "Reflection, Renewal and Celebration", is a fitting and timely theme indeed and one which served to deliver our renewed Pacific unity and solidarity. The launching of the "2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific" by our Pacific leaders last week reflects our deep appreciation for our past while also signaling a bold challenge and new promise for our future.
The strategy, which was consulted on widely here in the Cook Islands, and across each one of our Forum nations, is about our Pacific peoples; their futures, shared values, and talents. It is about our people who know their needs and potential, who plan and own their development agenda, and who act collectively for the good of all within our Blue Pacific. The strategy recognises together, we are stronger. Together we can overcome the multitude of complex challenges across our region. Together we can ensure the security and prosperity of our people today and for future generations to come.
Leaders last week launched the Pacific Regional Cultural Strategy 2022 to 2023 to the theme "Our future is in our past". Our Cook Islands development journey has always drawn from our past to chart our course forward. Leaning into the wisdom of our ancestors while boldly seising through innovation the opportunities of the future.
The Cook Islands is a proud founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum. In fact, it was our founding father, the late Albert Henry, who proposed in 1971 the need to create a political body for our newly independent Pacific nations, to complement our science and cultural organisation the SPC. So it was from August 5th to the 7th in 1971 that the leaders of the Cook Islands, Nauru, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, and Tonga, and a representative from Australia gathered in Wellington for the very first meeting of PIF.
Over the last 50 years, the Cook Islands has been an active participant in the work of the Forum and all Pacific regional organisations including the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community (SPC), the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP), the University of the South Pacific and others.
The Cook Islands have long recognised that we are stronger together, and we've been a staunch advocate of Pacific unity and solidarity, and ensuring in our collective efforts, that the most vulnerable within our Forum family is supported. We have also advocated the importance of respecting each other's evolving political and economic sovereignty.
The Cook Islands also consider very important adherence to our Forum processes and government frameworks, including upholding the integrity and primacy of our leader's decisions through the institutions we have collectively built together over the last 50 years. In that regard, I wish to pay tribute to the dignified manner befitting a Pacific Statesman in which our son of the Cook Islands, the Secretary General of the Forum Henry Puna, assumed the helm of our Forum organisation more than a year ago. The calm and determined manner in which he has conducted himself in leading our Secretariat in Suva through recent turbulent times is to be commended.
Last week's renewed unity and solidarity, including through the Suva Agreement, allows SG Puna to get on with the work leaders appointed him to undertake over a year ago - Akamaroiroi e tama.
Through the continued leadership of Forum Chair Prime Minister Bainimarama, I look forward to continued dialogue with President Maamau of Kiribati in the days ahead to collectively find a resolution to the impasse so we may once more fully embrace Kiribati within our Forum family. At this juncture, I wish to thank Special Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum and Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Tepaeru Hermann, who headed our delegation to Fiji last week and advocated our nation's priorities so positively.
Together with team MFAI, their efforts of last week and the bilateral and regional engagements I've led over the last two months to French Polynesia, Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand ensured outcomes that hold our nation in good stead as we push on with our recovery endeavour in the months ahead. Meitaki maata team MFAI.
I wish to acknowledge the confidence that Forum Leaders have placed in the Cook Islands to host the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum in 2023. This is an honour and responsibility we welcome and stand ready to deliver. The decision to host the Forum Leaders meeting next year was not taken lightly, and I am grateful that Tina Browne, Leader of the Opposition, provided her support for our hosting offer.
In keeping with the decision of leaders last week, the assumption of Forum Chair responsibilities by the Cook Islands will take place sometime in the last quarter of this year. Further information on those arrangements and the Cook Islands' intentions as relate to hosting in 2023 will be shared in the coming weeks.
The Cook Islands last hosted the Pacific Islands Forum in 2012 - we then chose the theme of "Large Ocean Islands States".
I do not downplay the challenge of hosting Forum Leaders next year, particularly given the trials of the last two years as a result of COVID-19. But just as we responded to COVID-19 positively, I am confident we will take on the responsibilities that come as Chair with the same determination to succeed.
Further, we will have the support of the Forum Trioka - outgoing Chair Fiji and incoming Chair after the Cook islands, Tonga, as well as that of our Forum Secretariat. We will also have support from our development partners to assist with the cost of hosting.
I am confident, as Chair, working closely with the Forum Troika and our Secretariat, we can improve communications and increase collaboration within our Forum family. We will build on the foundations set by Fiji and prior Forum Chairs to encourage increased engagement, assistance, and support from our peoples and our region.
2023 will be a time to showcase our Cook Islands hospitality. We will prepare well; from our farmers, fishermen, market vendors, retailers, tourism operators, and communities for when we welcome our friends from around the region and global partners who wish to engage with the Pacific on our terms.
Te Kuki Airani e ara! Taku ipukarea kia rangatira!
Kia Orana e kia manuia.