BY WERNER COHILL
THE PACIFIC PLAN MARKS A NEW BEGINNING in the concept of regionalism in the Pacific. Now in its seventh year of implementation, there have been progressive reports outlining the achievements tabled annually by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
This plan was developed out of a review of the Forum organisation in 2003 by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) and was later tabled in 2004 during a special Leaders Retreat in Auckland (New Zealand). It was aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and integration in the Pacific.
From this narrow goal of strengthening regional cooperation and integration, there were four areas that this plan aimed to achieve. They include stimulating economic growth and encouraging sustainable development, promoting and encouraging good governance, and security for the Pacific Island Countries.
During the 36th Forum meeting in Madang in 2005, the Pacific Plan was officially endorsed by the Pacific Leaders for a period of ten years.
In endorsing the plan, the Forum Members agreed to note in particular the need to firstly, increase trade in the region under the already established economic arrangements like South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreements (SPARTECA), Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreements (PICTA) and Pacific Agreements on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) with other non-forum trading partners and to also increase the regional technical and vocational education training.
Secondly to improve regional immigration policies so as to address the issue of labour mobility and at the same time seek international funding for sustainable development, biodiversity and environmental protection and climate change in the region.
Thirdly, to provide assistance to the Smaller Island States for the implementation of the Pacific Plan and noting with appreciation additional resources contributed by Australia and New Zealand as regional leaders.
All these measures espoused the making of a new regionalism in the Pacific. This new regionalism is different from the way regional cooperation was developed and understood in the past. The old regionalism was a child of colonialism.
Later, as the Pacific Island Countries began to gain political independence, this old regionalism was assimilated into the post-colonial setting of the Pacific Island Countries. In this way, regional cooperation was always compromised by the individual national interests of the island countries with little or no effort towards strengthening it. That is to say, the island countries continue to maintain their bilateral relations over regional interests.
The old idea of regional cooperation was a cover-up for the island countries to work in isolation and pursue their individual national interests. That meant that regional cooperation was operating flexibly and there was no overriding need for improving cooperation among the island countries towards addressing the issues of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security for the region.
The Pacific Plan has manifested the making of a new regionalism in the Pacific region. There are two reasons to justify the development of this new regionalism. Firstly, when the South Pacific Forum underwent a change of name in 2000 from South Pacific Forum to Pacific Islands Forum, the scope and focus of the Forum organization with regard to memberships and issues was increased. The Pacific Islands Forum now includes all the island countries and territories from the south to the north of the equator, about twenty-four islands as defined by the South Pacific Commission.
Also the four main issues that were outlined by the Pacific Plan were only a minority concern in the past but have now become increasingly crucial for the island countries and territories. Coupled with the process of globalization, they have come to realize the significance of working closely together.
This implies active cooperation and participation. Needless to say, these development issues have become important because of the globalization process. In his analysis, a renowned globalisation scholar notes two different types of globalisation taking place in the world. The first he calls globalization from above.
This is an emerging New World Order which is controlled and manipulated by transnational businesses and leading states. The second, he calls globalization from below. This is global democratization which calls for a one world diplomacy.
What does this mean for the developing island countries and territories in the Pacific? It would become extremely difficult for them to individually strive to achieve their national development goals. Politically and socio-economically they are too weak to withstand the pressures exerted by predatory transnational businesses and leading states.
Their New World Order is one that is constructed by self-centred and egoistic states with their profit-motivated multinational corporations. There has to be collective cooperation from developing as well as developed states so as to mitigate the challenges of this new order.
The Pacific cooperation of states should be further improved and enhanced by the Pacific Island Countries. Regional cooperation ought to be seen as a second-to-none option for them as developing countries to boost their growth and stability.
This is because turning to regionalism would be seen as a tool for development and the effectiveness of this strategy needs to be assessed substantially in the Pacific region.
Furthermore, regionalism is increasingly becoming part of the global economic environment and is going to affect them as developing countries, whether or not they participate in it. Upon understanding the implications, this can help them get prepared for and cope with it.
Secondly, the idea of strengthening regional cooperation and integration meshes well with the shift from the old geo-politics of Westphalia to the new geo-politics of Interregional Relations.
When seen in this light, the old regionalism in the Pacific region was concerned with the old geo-politics of Westphalia where regional cooperation was always compromised with the sovereignty of the island countries and territories. On the other hand, the idea of strengthening regional cooperation and integration as envisaged by the Pacific Plan reflects the new geo-politics of interregional relations.
This new geo-politics of interregional relations has put regionalism on the world’s agenda. The reason is because the world is descending into a more pluralist system and structure where the notion of sovereignty is gradually declining in international politics or may be approaching its demise.
Systematically, the settings of modern states are geared more towards regional and international cooperation rather than like some fifty years ago when sovereignty mattered. In structural terms, development initiatives of single states are gradually being questioned. It cannot be pursued in isolation anymore by single states. Issues of human rights, spread of pandemic diseases like HIV/AIDs and the move to have access to international markets are pushing the territorial boundaries of states further and further back.
This is because of the complexities diffused from the globalization process. These complexities are shaped from the global mobility of people and the rapid changes to information technologies.
In light of this, the endorsement of the Pacific Plan during the Forum meeting in Port Moresby dictates a different approach for each member country to develop and implement. This approach ought to be driven by political commitment and improvements to the role through which the Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific performs its roles and responsibilities towards enhancing regional cooperation.
The implementation of the Pacific Plan really involves a new degree of political commitment from the members. This degree of political commitment would also require the surrendering of some decision-making powers from national capitals to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. This would make the Secretariat a coherent political entity, capable of speaking with a regional voice on issues close to the hearts of the Pacific people.
This new regionalism is now calling for greater unity among the Pacific Island Countries and Territories so as to enable the Pacific region to not only survive but to prosper and be secure in this global era.
The island countries and territories must work together towards implementing the goals of the Pacific Plan successfully so as to achieve the material benefits and counter the challenges of ‘early globalization’ in the Pacific.