Interview with Yves Lafoy, representative of New Caledonia in New Zealand.
Designated by the Government of New Caledonia, Dr Yves Lafoy, “Official Representative of New Caledonia to New Zealand”, took up his position as part of the Embassy of France on November 15th, 2012.
This role is unique. Yves is indeed, the first official representative of a French infra-state territory to a sovereign State, New Zealand. This role, created in accordance with the Nouméa Accord (1998), results from two founding documents including the partnership framework convention signed in Paris on January 26th, 2012 by the President of the New Caledonian Government, the cooperation Minister and the Minister for overseas territories.
Yves, can you please describe your career in a few words?
Having graduating with a PhD with a focus on “marine sciences, South Pacific”, I started my career in 1989 in Japan, as scientific cooperation attache for the Embassy of France in Tokyo. I then moved to Fiji to join the organisation Mineral Resources Department, and later the South Pacific Applied Geosciences-Commission (SOPAC), currently a division at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
In 1991, I was recruited into the Caledonian public service, upon a request by the late Mr Jacques Iekawe who was then High-Commissioner for regional cooperation.
In terms of multilateral cooperation, I have represented New Caledonia on a regional stage for the last eighteen years. Since 2009, I have also been the representative of New Caledonia at the Pacific Islands Forum.
I have been working as part of the New Caledonia Government’s regional cooperation and external relations department for nine years now, including a three-year secondment in New Zealand. During that period, I was able to build networks with New Zealand government agencies on one hand, and the Embassy of France on the other hand.
Considering my regional experience and my Caledonian ‘citizenship’, since I am registered on the ‘special electoral list’ – which means I can vote on the institutional future of New Caledonia – I was designated as ‘official representative of New Caledonia to New Zealand’ mid-November 2012.
At the time you took up your position, what was the relationship like between New Caledonia and New Zealand?
It was good, although New Caledonia – and the current events taking place there on the eve of important elections (May 2014) - was suffering from low profile in New Zealand.
Before I took up my role – in mid-November 2012 – the last time a president of the Government had visited New Zealand was in 2005. It was then Mrs Marie-Noëlle THEMEREAU.
On the New Zealand side, the Hon. Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade went to New Caledonia in 2010 and later again in 2012, accompanied at this time by a delegation of around 60 entrepreneurs, in order to intensify the bilateral trade relationship.
In addition, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the French-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce and industry and its Caledonian counterpart, with the objective of exploring the possibility of partnership agreements with Caledonian businesses.
Some figures about the economic relationship:
New Caledonia represents the 3rd export market for NZ in the Pacific;
New Zealand is the 5th provider of goods in New Caledonia
New Zealand is the 2nd provider of food products in New Caledonia
New Zealand represents the 3rd destination for outward direct investments.
Most services between both territories relate to tourism and transport:
New Zealand represents the 3rd touristic destination for Caledonian residents;
New Zealand represents the 2nd country of cruise passengers’ provenance in New Caledonia.
What were the missions allocated to this role?
The attributions of this post were set in agreement with the Government of New Caledonia and the Embassy of France in New Zealand. They concern both the bilateral and multilateral (Pacific region) fields.
A triple bilateral mission consisting of:
ensuring official representation of New Caledonia’s institutions to New Zealand government; to establish a perennial political dialogue;
to boost bilateral cooperation between New Caledonia and New Zealand, in the fields of politics, economy, culture and education, and science and innovation;
to develop trade relations between the two countries.
A multilateral mission which consists of conducting relationships between New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Since you took up this role, what are the major issues you have worked on or major operations you have facilitated?
In 2013, I coordinated five official visits of Caledonian delegations – compared to just one in 2012 – which contributed to reinforcing the political dialogue. The themes for these visits were diverse, an example being renewable energies in the Pacific region – the delegation for this visit included the President of the Government, and the High Commissioner of the Republic.
I also facilitated the visit of a delegation from the customary senate on the occasion of the repatriation of Maori mummified heads (koiwi tangata). Other visits covered the subjects of water management, the prevention of youth crime, and finally the judicial specificities of New Caledonia and New Zealand.
My role is also to contribute to the development of cultural and educational relationships. In this field, New Caledonia has supported a programme of training for teachers of French in New Zealand, as well as a training seminar on the methodology for pedagogical projects, especially in reference to the First World War. I also supported school exchanges, such as the one established between Lycée Jules Garnier in Nouméa and Scots College and Queen Margaret College in Wellington.
Additionally, in order to promote the Caledonian and Kanak cultures and identities in New Zealand, a cultural and educational space dedicated to New Caledonia was created in the Alliance Française Wellington, in December last year.
In the field ofenvironmental sciences, updating the document « Promoting New Caledonia as a key Partner in Environmental Sciences » led to the identification of common interest sectors between New Caledonia and New Zealand, such as climate change and natural disasters, water and sanitation, energy, conservation of biodiversity, sustainable management of natural resources and environmental health.
In order to contribute to the development of the activity of New Caledonian firms in the New Zealand market, I work to sustain a dialogue with French external trading advisors (Conseillers du commerce extérieur), the French-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce and industry and the trade Commissioner at the Embassy.
Finally, in regards to multilateral cooperation, in the context of New Caledonia’s request to obtain full membership status to the Pacific Islands Forum, I represented New Caledonia at a series of Pacific Islands Forum meetings and another one led by the United Nations ‘Environment’ programme.
For the coming year, what are the major projects on which you are going to concentrate?
Firstly, the reinforcement of bilateral and multilateral political dialogue with the organising of new visits (three confirmed as of mid-February) one of which is a delegation from the Congress of New Caledonia (9-13 March) led by its President Mr Rock WAMYTAN, and another is that of the Ambassador of France in New Zealand, Mr Laurent Contini who will visit Le Caillou during the second semester of 2014.
At the multilateral level, the continuation of the conducting of relations between New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands Forum, with I hope, the eventual support by New Zealand, of New Caledonia’s request to attain full member status to the PIF.
For economic and commercial matters, three major projects are envisaged, namely:
the intensification of relations between Maori and Kanak communities, aiming towards the creation of a “reciprocal economic residency arrangement” ;
the contribution to the development of economic activity by New Caledonian businesses in the New Zealand market, notably in the framework of the Christchurch rebuild project;
participating in the process of opening New Caledonian trade – which constitutes a step to good regional integration – by contributing to the government commitment of creating an external trade strategy.
In terms of culture and education, continuing the cultural cooperation projects which were initiated in 2013, and intensifying scholastic exchanges in the context of the First World War centenary commemorations.
Can you tell us about a flagship project on which New Caledonia and New Zealand cooperate?
In addition to the Christchurch rebuild project, the structural project of laying a submarine optic cable linking New Caledonia to New Zealand. This strategic, mutual interest involves securing internet access in New Caledonia and creating a new connection to Australia for New Zealand.
During the 44th Summit of the Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro (3-6 September 2013), the announcement of the development of a new submarine cable between New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and the United States was made. Subject to financial approval for the connection cables, the countries and territories situated near the cable, including New Caledonia, have the opportunity to be connected to the Hawaïki optic cable, scheduled to be operational in the second semester of 2015.
What is New Caledonia’s place within regional institutions? And what are the envisaged developments?
New Caledonia is a member of 12 regional and/or international organisations.
For over five years, the Government of New Caledonia has committed to a global approach aiming to increase New Caledonia’s involvement within the Pacific Islands Forum. Indeed, for New Caledonia, one of the important issues is to increase its role and visibility by actively participating in meetings of regional political organisations (PIF) and technical organisations (SPC, SPREP), in order to better contribute to the work programmes of these regional bodies, and this for the benefit of the region.
Concerning the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), two significant developments were made in 2013:
Firstly, during a mission by the Forum Ministerial Committee in New Caledonia (16-19 July 2013), which fell within the framework of New Caledonia’s request to attain full member status to the PIF, the strong arguments in favour of the aforesaid request were highlighted, namely:
the sharing of political powers in New Caledonia, linked to the specific collegial structure of the Government
recognition of the Kanak identity
the peace and institutional stability brought about by the Nouméa Accord (advocated by an ensemble of political figures) and
the socio-economic rebalancing achieved by, amongst others, the operating of the GOROVALE and Koniambo Nickel SAS (KNS) nickel plants in the Southern (Province Sud) and Northern (Province Nord) Provinces, respectively.
During the 44th Summit of Forum Leaders (Majuro, Sept. 2013), following the very positive recommendations of the Forum’s Ministerial Committee mission report, the leaders announced, in their final communiqué, a strong consensus in favour of starting the formal process for New Caledonia to attain full membership status to the Forum.
The 44th Summit at Majuro was therefore a success for New Caledonia. Besides the fact that the presence of a delegation reflecting the diverse political tendencies of New Caledonia reinforced its regional integration approach/step, the Forum leader’s decision represents a considerable and unprecedented development in New Caledonia’s accession process, the request for which was initially made in 2007.
New Caledonia’s desire to develop within the Forum goes hand in hand with the crucial work of reinforcing its involvement in the dossiers of importance in the Pacific. Notably, in terms of the contribution to work programs, are two intergovernmental organisations with environmental mandates, the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP).