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Marape: "Our country is on the global stage"

Despite recent political drama which culminated with the stepping down of a key government minister, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape remains upbeat, pinning his hopes for a brighter future on the global attention that is shifting to PNG with the visit of US President Joe Biden and an entourage of business leaders.

Speaking to the Post-Courier on Sunday, Mr Marape said Biden's visit is not only important for geopolitical and bilateral reasons, but also fits in with his visions of turning the PNG economy around through downstream processing and tapping into the world-leading US market.

Justin Tkatchenko, who recently stood aside as Foreign Minister as a result of uproar over derogatory comments attributed to him related to a TikTok video posted by his daughter, was playing the most pivotal role in the visit of Biden and other key leaders.

But yesterday, Mr Marape, who will take over the Foreign ministry for the time being, looked like a man in control. He said the crucial visits later this month is a national achievement, and shows the critical role PNG now plays in the Pacific and the wider Indo-Pacific region.

And he wants PNG to make the most of the visit of the world and American business leaders.

"Our country has arrived at the global stage and awareness of our existence as a key player in the Pacific region and in the Indo-Pacific region, which is shown by the fact that Biden is visiting us," Mr Marape said.

"Papua New Guineans must not take this visit for granted.

"He could have chosen to fly over us and go to the QUAD meeting in Australia."

But Mr Marape said he made it clear to US government officials that the Biden visit must not be focused just on geopolitics and military agreements, but must instead show some real effort in trade and economic development for PNG.

"In 2018 we had the vice president visiting us for APEC. This time we have the president visiting us.

"That is a big acknowledgement. President Biden is coming with business leaders so we must make use of that opportunity," he said.

"The fact that he is coming with business leaders means they clearly understand our policy focus.

"We are not just talking politics, the residual benefits are that investors are allowed to participate in our economy and in our export sector. I did indicate to him that his country is a big market, and they hardly buy any produce from PNG, agriculture or fisheries.

"We have many things in common, such as our democratic ideals, our military engagements, our shared history, so we have to wrap up these conversations now.

"I want US manufacturers to come in, produce locally, and export to the world and the US itself.

"They are hearing us loud and clear. Based on my invitation he is coming, but it's not something for me to flounder as a personal achievement, it's the country's achievement."

Mr Marape said PNG leaders and officials are prepared to engage with the US business leaders, who will remain in Port Moresby after Biden goes on to Sydney.

"I am looking forward to the team of manufacturing leaders that are coming in with Biden.

They told me that they have heard our request to not just talk politics and defense. We want serious effort put into the export and manufacturing sector, and build our capacity in these areas.

"We want them to come and partner local businesses, set up here, we feed them with our raw materials and they produce finished products and export them to their markets back in the US or other areas of the world.

"That's where my focus is. We have told them not to come and talk about Asia and China without some serious push into commerce and trade."

Gorethy Kenneth and Lawrence Fong (PNG Post Courier)

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