Last Thursday I was pleased to host a lunch for a group of Pacific politicians and leaders who were in Wellington to attend the Pacific Parliamentary Forum. The Forum, which was organised by Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, brought together approximately 70 leaders from Pacific states and entities with the focus of promoting cooperation and stronger governance in the region. The programme included discussion groups and debates with our own Members of Parliament, and provided all attendees with the valuable opportunity to consider issues of regional concern such as energy, health and job creation.
While these types of exchanges are relatively frequent at ministerial level, such occasions are rare for newer parliamentarians. Our Government believes that regional cohesion is essential to promote links with members of the next generation of Pacific leaders. With roughly 7 per cent of Kiwis being of Pasifika origin, New Zealand’s culture is greatly influenced by the Pacific. As a multicultural country, we benefit from the vibrancy added to society by our ethnic communities, and that is why we want to enable the Pacific region and our Pacific communities here in New Zealand to thrive.
We currently deploy significant resources within our Pacific region, where they are most needed, and where we can make a real difference. For instance, we’ve invested $4.5 million in aid funding for Pacific agriculture, and we are putting additional funding into fisheries support programmes – bringing our total commitment over the next four years to $50 million. The Pacific is also significant to us in a trade capacity. Trade with the region has grown more than 30 per cent in the last 10 years, and our exports have grown by 50 per cent. The region represents our seventh largest export market, with our exports to Pacific Island countries now totalling nearly $1 billion. These statistics reflect the importance of the complex web of family and other connections that New Zealand has around the region.
New Zealand is a nation of the South Pacific. We remain focused on our role in the region and we are committed to the long-standing ties that equip our country in a unique way to play a role as a regional facilitator.