Small Islands, Big Stakes:
International Meeting to Review the Implementation
of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development
of Small Island Developing States.
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The preparations for the Mauritius Meeting began in 2003 with regional meetings, followed by an inter-regional ministerial session in the Bahamas in January 2004, where island governments adopted a strategy document that became the basis for future talks. Negotiations with the international community on the texts to be adopted in Mauritius started in March 2004 and continued in April, May and October in New York. Although these talks have been cordial, agreement has not yet been reached on thorny issues such as climate change, trade, market access, proposals for new financing mechanisms and modalities of implementation. Informal negotiations will resume on 7 and 8 January in Mauritius, just prior to the conference. Joined together in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), small islands are represented during the negotiations by the “Group of 77” (G77) which represents 135 developing countries.
In addition to the official conference, several parallel events will be held in Mauritius: a Civil Society Forum (6-9 January), a youth gathering called “Youth Visioning for Island Living” (7-12 January), and a large event aimed at promoting exchanges among small islands, the “Community Vilaj” (6-14 January), which will include a dialogue and performance space as well as an “Island Market” to showcase the diversity of island products.
Long-standing challenges, emerging issues The Barbados Programme of Action, agreed at the first islands conference in 1994, focussed mainly on environmental problems such as climate change, natural disasters, wastes, marine resources, freshwater, land resources, energy, biodiversity, transport, tourism and science/technology. In addition, the Mauritius International Meeting will address a few emerging issues that increasingly affect small islands, including market access, HIV/AIDS, culture, information technology and new security concerns.
Small island and donor nations had agreed in Barbados to tackle islands’ challenges in partnership. The Barbados Programme of Action has been only partially implemented, though, partly due to a reduction in foreign aid. While foreign aid represented 2.6 per cent of small islands’ gross national income in 1990, it gradually diminished to only 1.0 per cent in 2002. At the same time, small islands did not attract the levels of foreign private capital and foreign direct investments that they had anticipated, mainly because they lack the market size, skilled labour and indigenous technological development to compete with larger developing countries for such investment flows.
In a recent report on small islands, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan enumerates factors that contribute to the specific challenges of small island developing States: small populations and economies, weak institutional capacity in both the public and the private sector, remoteness from international markets, susceptibility to natural disasters and climate change, fragility of land and marine ecosystems, high costs of transportation, limited diversification in production and exports, dependence on international markets, and vulnerability to external economic shocks. “As a result, their economies, including trade, financial flows and agricultural production, show greater volatility than those of other countries,” said Mr. Annan.