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1. At the invitation of the Government of Fiji, the twentieth session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) was held in Nadi, Fiji, from 19 to 23 April 2004. Representatives of 29 member countries participated in the session, along with observers and representatives from 7 international organizations and 5 international non-governmental organizations. A list of participants is given in Appendix B. The Commission welcomed Timor Leste and Tonga as new members.

2. Mr. M. Hosny El-Lakany, Assistant Director-General and Head of the Forestry Department of FAO, welcomed participants on behalf of the Director-General of FAO. He thanked the Government of Fiji, and especially the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests for hosting the meeting and for the excellent arrangements. He noted that the Commission provided both FAO and participating countries an excellent opportunity to discuss emerging forest policy issues in the region, identify common problems, seek solutions and build collaboration.

3. Reflecting on current challenges in Asia-Pacific forestry, Mr. El-Lakany cited concerns over invasive species, illegal logging, forest fires, forest degradation, weak institutional capacity and the need for more effective implementation of participatory forestry. He highlighted the need to strike a balance between economic growth and equity, emphasizing the critical role forests play in alleviating rural poverty. He further stressed that forestry must be fully integrated with other sectors in policy development, particularly agriculture.

4. Mr. El-Lakany concluded by highlighting FAO’s efforts to enhance international dialogue and cooperation in forestry, through support to the work of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), and through leadership of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). He also emphasized the important role that the regional forestry commissions provide in linking the interests and concerns of countries at the regional level to the broader international dialogue.

5. His Excellency Konisi T. Yabaki, Minister for Fisheries and Forests of Fiji, welcomed participants and presented the inaugural address. He urged the Commission to remain sensitive to the vast diversity of the Asia-Pacific region and give due consideration to the needs and challenges faced by the small island nations of the South Pacific. At the same time, he observed that the current rapid pace of globalization and technological development demanded more international and regional cooperation than ever before. He applauded the efforts of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission in supporting the exchange of information and knowledge on best management practices, devolution of forest management, improved forest harvesting, rehabilitation of degraded lands, participatory approaches and implementation of national forest programmes.

6. Highlighting the objectives of Fiji’s forestry sector policies, His Excellency described the country’s efforts to develop appropriate forestry institutions and infrastructure, manage forests sustainably, create and manage community-owned plantations, establish locally owned and managed processing facilities, and promote the export of value-added timber products. He concluded by expressing optimism that the APFC session would give rise to solid recommendations for regional cooperation and improved management of the region’s forests.

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