The First Pacific Connect Business Network Dialogue – Communiqué to key stakeholders

| June 19, 2018

1. We, the participants of the inaugural Pacific Connect Business Network Dialogue, met in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) on 27-28 March 2018 at the invitation of the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP). The Dialogue was organised with the support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and in collaboration with the PNG Digital Commerce Association (PNG DCA).

2. We thank Simone Pensko and ICDP for organising the Dialogue, Nathaniel Wingti and Dr Amanda Watson for their thought-provoking presentations; Isikeli Taureka, Andrew Carriline and Peter Fritz AM for facilitating the discussion; and Ernst & Young PNG through James Gore for offering in-kind support for post-Dialogue activities.

We congratulate the Dialogue organisers on assembling a diverse group of participants with expertise in identity management, legal affairs, innovation, insurance, entrepreneurship, accounting, digital platforms and business development. We thank all the attendees for their positive contributions to the Dialogue and their desire to continue and deepen their engagement.

3. We thank Mr Carriline for the opportunity to participate in team-building, self-reflection and leadership exercises and recognise their value in revealing mutual interests and creating common purpose in a disparate group. These approaches greatly strengthened the bonds required to maintain ongoing relationships and generate long-term tangible outcomes.

4. We welcome Australia’s interest in forging stronger and more enduring strategic relationships with Pacific Island nations and see the planned Pacific Connect Dialogues as an opportunity for current and emerging regional leaders to extend their networks, work on solutions to common challenges and, ultimately, develop long-term relationships through shared experiences.

5. The inaugural Dialogue’s focus on digital connectivity aligns with the “Digitisation and Innovation—Advancing Social Harmony’ theme of the 2018 APEC and the PNG government’s goal of ‘Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future’. With the Pacific undergoing unprecedented technological transformation, we believe this is an ideal time for people to discuss and advance the digital agenda for the Pacific.

6. PNG needs more assistance to recover from the recent earthquake, and we see opportunities for innovative digital approaches to be employed alongside traditional aid efforts to improve social welfare, administrative efficiency and economic growth.

New financial, identity and delivery models are required to overcome long-standing barriers and encourage companies and social enterprises to grow. We believe that distributed ledger technology such as blockchain could be used to create and secure citizen identities and guarantee the provenance of agricultural exports such as palm oil.

7. We acknowledge that mobile phones are the dominant communications platform in PNG, given the country’s lack of fixed infrastructure, rugged terrain and cultural and linguistic diversity. While internet access is currently limited to larger towns, widespread 2G phone coverage offers scope for text and voice communications and will be an important enabler of e-commerce and other technology solutions.

8. We believe that simple, robust and familiar technology should be used wherever possible in future solutions in PNG, allied to active marketing and education to ensure its proper use. We also recognise that viable commercial models for service provision could prove more sustainable than relying on government action or grants.

9. We champion the potential of blockchain and other digital technology to improve administration and empower growth in PNG. We look forward to working with the PNG Digital Commerce Association on two proposals—a ‘regulatory sandbox’ to test a digital financial ID, and blockchain registration for palm oil products—as practical projects for the Dialogue to progress. Moves towards the digital ID solution for PNG could be announced at the APEC Summit in Port Moresby in November 2018.

10. We are confident that people in PNG will embrace new technology and use it with ingenuity, if it meets their needs. However, we acknowledge that a lack of income and electricity, combined with a range of cultural, financial and educational problems, can limit the take-up of new solutions, unless they are tailored to PNG’s circumstances. User-led development will be vital to the success of any scheme—imposing a solution from above, whatever the technology employed, cannot guarantee participation.

11. We recognise that ongoing and deepening engagement from Australian Dialogue participants, including more time spent in the country and visits to areas beyond Port Moresby, will develop deeper understanding of PNG’s diverse cultures and rich history.

We will therefore ensure that Australian members will have opportunities to learn more about PNG on future visits, while PNG participants are invited to Australian events. We will also endeavour to increase the number of female participants to improve the gender balance in the Dialogue, while acknowledging that female participation in the ICT sector tends to be less than that of males in both the Pacific and Australia.

12. The 21st century is the ‘century of collaboration’, and we hope that our combined expertise and experience, amplified by the ‘network effect’ of our shared contacts, can drive transformative change in PNG and the broader Pacific region. We see the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Connect Business Network Dialogue as the first step to creating personal bonds, deepening trust and creating enduring relationships over future years.

13. We look forward to continuing our collaboration through ongoing meetings and via a dedicated online forum to develop the ‘Digital financial ID’ and palm oil provenance projects. We also plan to reconvene as a group to continue the dialogue and take stock of progress in developing the agreed projects.

14. We appreciate an opportunity to participate in the Pacific Connect Forum, to be held in Sydney on 6 September 2018, and thank the organisers for extending the invitation to all Dialogue participants.