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  • The Region in Review: International Issues and Events, 2012
  • Nic Maclellan (bio)

Pacific regionalism is being transformed. As the economies of Europe and the United States (US) slowly recover from financial crisis, many Pacific countries are investigating South-South cooperation and are extending their aid, trade, and political links with emerging economies in Asia. During the year, Island leaders launched reviews of key regional frameworks and institutions, including the Pacific Plan and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (msg). This Melanesian bloc also undertook new initiatives on trade and decolonization, while Fiji’s central role in regional politics continued as governments and civil society debated the nation’s flawed transition toward parliamentary elections in 2014. Working with the msg rather than the Pacific Islands Forum (pif), the postcoup regime in Fiji has transformed the country’s foreign policy and has begun to play a more independent role on the regional and international stage.

In 2012, the first visit to a pif Leaders Meeting by a US secretary of state highlighted increasing international engagement with Island states, and the election of new leaders in Paris, Beijing, and Tokyo opened the way for shifts in policies toward the region.

At the annual meeting in the Cook Islands, pif leaders announced the launch of a major review of regional coordination, while Forum Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade stated: “Our efforts towards regional integration should be intensified and accelerated” (pifs 2012h).

In recent years, there has been quiet—and not so quiet—criticism of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (pifs), suggesting that it is not fully engaging with the needs of member states. A comprehensive review of the pifs in 2012 by Peter Winder of New Zealand, Tessie Eria Lambourne of Kiribati, and Kolone Vaai of Sāmoa made a series of recommendations for reforming the secretariat’s structure, leadership, and priorities (Winder and others 2012). A leaked draft of the review highlighted competition among members of the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific (crop): “A broad range of stake holders noted the apparent competition between regional agencies (sprep, spc and the Secretariat) for mandate and funding with respect to climate change issues”; it also noted that “the level of engagement between the Secretariat and member states is weak in both directions” and recommended that the pifs “should not have any hands-on role in delivering donor funded projects that fall outside of its core mandate” (Winder and others 2012, 7, 4, 5).

By year’s end, there had been several corporate reforms intended to strengthen senior management in the secretariat, including updating its information technology systems and developing policies for a new communications strategy and a reporting, monitoring, and evaluation framework. In December, the Forum Officials [End Page 352] Committee met to discuss a new pifs Corporate Plan for 2013–2018.

Beyond this, however, Forum leaders deferred further action at their annual meeting in Rarotonga, agreeing that the Winder review’s key recommendations would be rolled into a broader review of the Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Integration.

As a framework for regional coordination, the Pacific Plan grew out of a 2004 Forum Eminent Persons Group, which called for a new vision for Pacific regionalism. However, the resulting policy framework—first endorsed by Forum leaders at their 2005 meeting in Madang—was one of the least visionary documents to appear in recent years. It was widely criticized for downplaying issues of culture and gender (Huffer 2006), and its priorities often reflected the existing agenda of regional intergovernmental bodies.

The Pacific Plan Review Team is led by former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, working with two officials representing Forum Island Countries (Sāmoa’s Noumea Simi and former Federated States of Micronesia Vice President Redley Killion) and two international consultants (British aid advisor Peter Bazeley and New Zealand public sector reform expert Nick Poletti). In December, Morauta called for public submissions on the plan, and throughout 2013 the review team will travel to Forum member countries, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia to seek public comment.

Morauta’s review comes at a time when there is widespread debate about regional institutions. The international agenda has broadened, with significant pressures on the...