On 29 May 2012 Willie Luen was preparing to emcee one of the most important meetings of his life. He remembers that the room — a hotel conference room in Port Vila, the capital city of Vanuatu — was so packed with people that the windows were starting to fog up.
“I was nervous,” Luen says. “It was the first time the ministry had done this kind of thing.”
In front of him was the Deputy Prime Minister, Ham Lini, ready to chair the meeting. Around the room were senior government officials and some of Vanuatu’s most important donor partners, private sector representatives, NGO staff, diplomats and community representatives.
They were gathered for the very first meeting of the National Trade Development Committee (NTDC): a group of public and private sector representatives interested in domestic and international trade that works together to identify and resolve their respective trade development problems. They do this by making recommendations to the Vanuatu Council of Ministers.
In this first meeting they discussed and approved the Vanuatu Trade Policy Framework, which has since become one of the leading national policies for economic development.
Moreover, they discussed how the Vanuatu team would enter the next round of negotiations on key free trade agreements, and approved the first EIF project for the country focusing on trade related institution and policy support.
The conclusion of the inaugural meeting is a proud moment for Luen: the culmination of a number of months of patient work. Though it’s work for which he feels well-prepared from his early career as a secondary school teacher.
“As a teacher you’re constantly trying to bring the students along a learning journey with you. I’ve always had a passion for collaboration,” Luen says.
After leaving teaching for a short stint in Norway to study for a Master’s — he was the first person from Vanuatu to receive an Erasmus Mundus scholarship —
Luen began a new phase of his career as a trade officer in the Department of External Trade under the Ministry of Tourism, Trade, Commerce and Ni-Vanuatu Business.
One of his first tasks in this new role was to work with Andrea Giacomelli, the resident Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Fellow, to finalize the Vanuatu Trade Policy Framework. This Framework was instigated by the Ministry in partnership with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and drawing on the findings of the latest Diagnostic Trade Integration Study.
The study provided, “a roadmap for addressing our trade challenges and comparative advantages,” Luen says, and helped the Vanuatu government develop its first comprehensive Trade Policy Framework, which is an umbrella policy that other trade policies hook into.
“With that in place, we realized that most ministries have policies but no way of knowing if policies have been implemented.”
“The study recommended we start a committee to monitor the implementation of national trade policy.”
And so, in May 2012, they did just that.