The erosion of coastlines and the erosion of the cultural heritage of the Pacific have recently been addressed by Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama at the recent World Urban Forum last week in Dubai.
"In Fiji, we've embraced innovation to combat climate change and adapt to withstand its impacts," he said, while emphasising that Pacific heritage has fuelled an urgency in fighting climate change.
To achieve any results, the energy of the global economy must be directed towards innovation. One key aspect of innovation in the global economy are brands - which help consumers identify products and services that respect the environment and sustain cultural heritage.
As companies address climate change, or promote cultural heritage, consumers rely on brands to direct their tremendous collective purchasing power towards these ends.
But this can only happen if consumers trust that the brands are authentic and not fake.
Consumers and governments across the Pacific can play an important role by helping to protect brands - and ensure that consumers are contributing economic weight for a sustainable future. Smartly, governments across the Pacific are paying attention.
Recently, from February 12 to 14, the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO), with the assistance of the International Trademark Association (INTA), Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), trained representatives of customs officials from 13 countries and territories, including Australia, Fiji, Guam, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Northern Mariana Islands, Niue, Palau, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu on the best practices to identify counterfeit products and to protect consumers across the Pacific.
These officers from the customs agencies across the Pacific are on the front line of brand protection for their islands.
But how can brand protection create a better future?
The health and safety of consumers drive most efforts to fight counterfeit products. Counterfeiters target the most vulnerable of consumers in developing countries. In some developing countries the rate of counterfeit medicine on the market can reach 50% according to the World Health Organisation.
The batteries in fake phones can explode. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals could have no effect on sick patients - or worse - could kill if the fakes contain no active pharmaceutical ingredient. Fake pesticides can poison precious farmland if sprayed on crops. Victims often have no redress and do not have the money to purchase a replacement, afford hospital treatment, or grow subsistence level food.
The production of counterfeits also can contribute to the financing of criminal networks - and the working conditions within counterfeit factories can violate basic labour protections and include the use of child labour or forced labour.
Brand protection plays its part in environmental sustainability as fake products are produced outside of regulatory control - and a counterfeiter would not hesitate to pollute the environment for further profit gains.
Socially responsible brands lose the revenue from the sale of originals that otherwise would have gone towards carbon offset or environmental clean-up.
Brands matter because they are a major pillar of economic growth and prosperity. Trademarks can help local producers and craftsman build an identity and reputation - and ultimately allows them to charge premiums for their products.
Take a case study from Papua New Guinea as an example of how brand protection helps the smallest of businesses and supports local craftspeople while preserving the cultural heritage of the Pacific.
A well-known item sought after by tourists in PNG is the unique woven bilum bag. In recent years however, mass-produced bags have been flooding in from Asian countries.
The local border authorities in PNG took action against these imports and destroyed these infringing products - supporting the authentic local producers who keep an important cultural tradition alive and support the local economy.
A large part of the economy of the Pacific is agricultural production and a great example of how a brand can directly benefit agriculture producers comes from another developing country in Asia: Cambodia.
In this case, local farmers developed a type of brand called a "geographical indication" around the region of province of Kampot in Cambodia.
Before this brand was developed in 2010, the value of the black Kampot Pepper was about $5 per kilo. After developing the brand, marketing it and protecting it, by 2016 the value rose more than 300% to $15! The success story is a simple one about registering rights, followed by close quality control and consistent marketing.
On the macroeconomic level, research released in 2017 by INTA shows the important role that trademarks play in economic development. Across five countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore, trademark-intensive industries contribute 17% to 50% of GDP, 27% to 60% of exports, and 13% to 29% of total employment.
The data reveal that countries with higher standards of living also have higher trademark-intensity in their economy. For example, Singapore has the region's highest per capita GDP, and it also has the highest trademark intensity. Indonesia, an emerging economy, is less trademark-intensive.
Governments and industry across the Pacific island countries should research their country's trademark-intensive industry to better understand its contribution to society - and foster more use of brands across all of society.
In a 2018 letter to the Pacific Island Forum (PIF), INTA recommended the development of a strategy to promote the use of brands by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), build public awareness around the dangers of counterfeit goods and support legislative and regulatory capacity around the registration and protection of trademarks and brands.
SMEs in particular can benefit tremendously from trademark protection. Trademark registrations are affordable and are often the first intellectual property rights that a business can obtain. As a business pursues a long-term strategy focused on quality and consistency, customer loyalty can be built around its brand.
Part of the quality consumers need to look for will be how the brand promotes sustainability to fight the pressing issues of our time, including climate change and promoting cultural heritage.
In order to achieve a long-term strategy of economic, cultural and environmental sustainability, the countries of the Pacific should continue to focus on encouraging businesses to develop consistent, high-quality brands, and use international frameworks to protect and grow those assets within am sustainable framework.