First and foremost, I would like to apologize on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Malaysia for not being here with all of you today to officiate this important forum as he has to attend to an urgent matter.
It is an honour and pleasure for me to be here to address this distinguished gathering at the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission Regional Consultative Regional Forum. I would like to thank the Department of Fisheries Malaysia and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for jointly organising this important forum.
I have been told that there are participants from various countries in the Asia-Pacific and international organisations who have come all the way from their respective countries to participate in this forum. To our distinguished participants, I would like to wish you "Selamat Datang" or Welcome to Malaysia. If this is your first visit to Malaysia, I hope you will take some time after this forum to savour the sights and sounds of this beautiful country.
Throughout the world especially in the Asia-Pacific region, fish has been the main supply of cheap and healthy protein to a major percentage of the world's populations. Fisheries continue to receive increasing attention not only because they are important source of livelihoods and food but also form one of the key components in the national economy of coastal states. FAO, in a report on the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2004 concludes that developments in world fisheries and aquaculture during recent years have continued to follow the trends that were already apparent at the end of 1990's:
We have seen that fisheries and aquaculture development over the past 20 years has been extremely rapid and difficult to control. The rapid expansion of both fisheries and aquaculture has brought about many challenges and if they are not addressed urgently will certainly undermine the potential contribution that both fisheries and aquaculture can make to the sustainable development of the affected countries.
The World Food Summit and the Millennium Declaration contain two important goals, that is, reducing hunger as well as poverty by half by the year 2015. In this regard, aquaculture is essential in helping to meet the growing demand for fish and fishery products. Aquaculture is also a significant source of labour and income, particularly in developing countries. However, if the development of the aquaculture and culture-based fisheries sector is to be sustainable, it must be carried out in a responsible manner and in line with the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
Small-scale fisheries are also playing an increasingly important role in contributing to achieving the goals of the World Food Summit and the Millennium Declaration, despite many human, technological and financial constraints. Nevertheless, communities of small-scale fishermen is still the poorest and most vulnerable rural communities. I believe this forum will propose strategies aimed at creating an enabling environment to alleviate the social and economic deprivation which affects millions of small-scale fisherfolk.
Fish trade is another major issue of concern especially to developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The considerable growth in international trade in fish and fishery products has led to the development of an important regulatory framework which makes it difficult for many developing countries to get access to foreign markets. In addition to constraints, such as the strengthening of norms and standards for safety and quality, these countries have to face the effects of utilization of new technologies as well as the increased competition brought about by globalization and liberalization of trade.
These rapid developments have also highlighted the need for enhancing the role of regional fishery bodies. Many countries in the region face similar challenges and we need to work together to address them. I believe, the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC) which has been in existence for over 50 years will continue to serve its members to address the issues mentioned above. I must congratulate the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission for its long success, commitment and continued service to this region.
Malaysia welcomes the new initiative of APFIC to organize this "regional consultative forum" that provides States with the opportunity to share our challenges, and more importantly, ways to address them. I believe this forum with the theme "Reforming Fisheries and Aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific" will work towards synthesizing, analyzing and agreeing on actions needed to reshape fisheries and aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific for future generations. The recommendations made during this forum will be essential input to the formulation of the future APFIC work programme until the year 2010.
In spite of the heavy agenda, I hope that delegates will be able to find time to view the poster presentations that have been organized in conjunction with this forum.
As some of you may know, Malaysia will be celebrating its Independence in less than two weeks, that is, on the 31st of August 2006. On that Day, Malaysia will be celebrating its 49th year of independence. To mark this occasion, many events have been lined up, including cultural shows and historical exhibitions. This is a good opportunity for those of you who would like to learn more about the progress and development that has taken place in Malaysia over the last few decades. The festive atmosphere will no doubt help to enhance your stay here, too. I hope that you will find time to attend these events, explore the city, places of interests, shopping delights and delicious food besides the warm hospitality of our plural society.
Before I end my speech, I would like to congratulate the Department of Fisheries Malaysia, the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC), INFOFISH and all other donors and agencies that have contributed towards the successful organization of this forum.
Finally, I hope that all of you will have a very pleasant and memorable stay here. On this note, and in the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful, I take great pleasure in declaring the "Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission Regional Consultative Forum: Reforming Fisheries and Aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific" open.
I wish all of you a very fruitful and rewarding deliberations.