By ISAAC NICHOLAS
PAPUA New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are championing moves for greater integration of the economies of the Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and his Solomon Islands counterpart Danny Phillip met in Port Moresby yesterday and signed a joint communiqué’ to remove all economic barriers and imposition of work permit requirements, labour mobility and trade restrictions, including tariffs, between the two nations.
The two leaders discussed and exchanged views on bilateral issues of mutual interest that included opening up shipping and air services to Bougainville, increased scholarship quota for Solomon Islands students and opening up teaching positions for surplus teachers from the Solomon Islands.
The Solomon Islands Prime Minister is on a three-day official visit.
Officials of the two Melanesian Spearhead nations will work to formalise the agreement soon.
O’Neill said PNG and the Solomon Islands would work to formalise similar agreements with the other MSG nations (Vanuatu and Fiji) and with other neighbouring Pacific nations outside of the Melanesian sub-region.
O’Neill said PNG and the Solomon Island were close neighbours with cultural links and the two countries would further enhance that relationship with increased development assistance to the Solomon Islands.
He said PNG would give the Solomon Islands K100 million as grant aid over the next five years to support its internal development programmes.
This is an increase of K80 million from the K20 million grant aid programme.
O’Neill said some of the grant would go towards the continuation of tertiary education grant assistance for Solomon Islands students studying at PNG universities and other tertiary institutions.
The Solomon Islands recently proposed to the PNG government to consider continuation of PNG’s generous tertiary education grant assistance for its students studying in PNG when the existing programme of assistance expired at the end of this year.
O’Neill committed the PNG Government to continuing the grant for five more years.
The grant scheme to the Solomon Islands was initiated by former PNG prime minister, the late Sir William Skate in 1997.
The neighbours agreed to cooperate on joint border development programmes.
The programme will involve management and development of border posts at strategic points of the common border between the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and the outer islands of the Solomon Islands closest
The two leaders agreed to hold a joint meeting of their respective Cabinets in the ARB in early December.
PNG, Solomons aim for greater integration9 10 2011
By ISAAC NICHOLAS