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Pacific Islands Forum leaders fly in to discuss climate change
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As last-minute preparation work is being carried out in the small island nation of Niue, heads of the government from guest countries are landing in Alofi, Niue, for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) summit to be held from Tuesday to Thursday.

As a key political and economic policy organization in the Pacific, the 16-member PIF meets annually to develop collective responses to regional issues. When leaders meet this week in the isolated coral atoll thousands of kilometers north-east of New Zealand, climate change and Fiji's stalled election process will top the agenda.

The effect of "global warming" has been a threat to food security and safety of island communities. As a consequence, many Forum Island countries are already subjected to sea level rising.

"It is hoped that Niue as host will take the lead in navigating change to combat the overwhelming effects of climate change and to encourage the PIF to raise its stance on the issues of climate change and not just paying lip-service but be active and promoting all means of renewable energy, recycling, re-use and so forth," the Niue government said in its website for the summit.

Just two days before the opening of the summit, Fiji interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama announced he would not attend this year's forum summit as he has "local political issues to focus on."

Bainimarama, who took power after a bloodless coup in 2006, blamed the move on the New Zealand government's decision not to allow Fiji's delegation to travel into Auckland for meetings after the forum.

Bainimarama's latest move may help ease the irritation of other Pacific states that want to discuss more about the issues to improve their aid-ridden economies, enhance labor mobility to the richer nations of Australia and New Zealand and promote industries other than agriculture, logging and fishing.

"Please don't focus on one particular topic this year ... We have great potential here for tourism and the forum must also focus on sustainable economies," said Niue's newly elected Premier Toke Talagi.

Australia has announced that it would use this summit to push for open trade to help promote growth in its fellow PIF partners.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who just flew in to have immediate bilateral talks with Talagi, is widely expected to announce a trial guest worker plan, to allow Pacific Islanders to go to Australia for seasonal workers, in a major shift in immigration policy. Remittance sent by overseas guest workers is a crucial source of income for small Pacific Islands countries.

Officials from New Zealand, another major country, said last week the forum would also look at soaring food and fuel prices in the region. The forum has been studying plans for small island countries to join forces to bulk buy fuel in an effort to reduce the costs.

Since 1989, the Forum has held Post Forum Dialogues with key Dialogue Partners (PFDP) at Ministerial level. The 14-member PFDP includes: Canada, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Britain and the United States.

The 20th Post-Forum Dialogue Partners' Plenary will be held on Thursday with focus on Coral Pasisi and other regional and International issues.

With a population of less than 1,600, Niue was the smallest country in the PIF. The country was to have hosted the Forum in 2004, but was hit by Cyclone Heta on New Year's Day of the same year which destroyed or damaged 95 percent of the islands infrastructure.

Over the weekend locals were busy with putting up the signs and decorations, while 50 additional police officers from New Zealand were flown in to supplement the island's regular team of 16 officers.

(Xinhua News Agency August 20, 2008)

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