A short term fishing deal worth $US89 million has been struck between Pacific nations and the United states but future long-term arrangements look uncertain.
Future uncertain for US and Pacific fishing treaty
A short term fishing deal worth $US89 million ($US89,271,350) has been struck between Pacific nations and the United States but has also left uncertainty over future long-term arrangements.
Representatives met in Australia recently to discuss renewing the 1988 South Pacific Tuna Treaty which allows US vessels to fish in the exclusive economic zones of Pacific Island countries.
While long-term negotiations failed, a shorter deal was reached for 2016 with a higher rate of payment to Pacific nations than the current arrangement.
However, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency's deputy director general Wez Norris, told Daniela Maoate-Cox that US participation beyond 2016 looks murky.
WEZ NORRIS: The sense that we got towards the close of the last renegotiation session was that the US were not receiving a feeling of cooperation and partnership from the Pacific Island Parties (PIP) that they were expecting so that caused them to lay out some fairly serious ultimatums towards the end of the session about what they would expect to see over the next couple of months.
DANIELA MAOATE-COX: How much weight is there to that threat for the longer term participation of the US in the Treaty? Because they said they agreed to this interim agreement in the interests of securing access for their fleet in 2016, so what's to say they wouldn't want to secure access for their fleets in 2017 as well?
WN: That's the key to this issue, so we do take the situation that we're in very seriously but at the same time it's not surprising. From our own perspective, within the Pacific Island parties, it's also been getting more and more difficult to make the arrangement in its current form work. The reason for that is, what the treaty does is it ties in three distinct pillars so to speak. Obviously it provides for multilateral fishing access, so for US vessels to access the exclusive economic zones in a large number of countries. It's also the basis of the geopolitical relationship between many of the Pacific Island countries and the US and it's also the instrument through which the US government provides development assistance to the Pacific Island countries. Now each one of those three is very complex by itself so when you seek to combine all three of them in a single instrument it becomes very intricate and very contextualised. So it shouldn't be surprising to us that we're coming to a point where we all need to step back and take a look around, Certainly, US vessels will be seeking ongoing access to the Pacific tuna fishery, it's the largest tuna fishery in the world and the US fleet has a very long history of operating here and investing into processing factories around the region. So I think it's incumbent on us all to take a step back and have a look at the overall framework of the treaty and see how we can make it work for everybody.
DM-C: What kind of impact would it have if the United States just said, nope, we're not going to be part of this treaty anymore and pulled out?
WN: I think the most significant impact and the most immediate impact would be the potential cessation of the development assistance that the US is currently providing under the treaty. At the moment the US government provides $21 million per year, a lot of which is distributed evenly among the Pacific Island Parties. Now for many of the Pacific Island Parties, that's the only direct financial assistance they receive from the United States, so obviously ceasing that economic assistance would have a very serious impact on them.
DM-C: So should this suggestion that they won't participate if their concessions are not agreed upon or if they don't reach something that's more in the middle ground that the US wants, should it be taken seriously?
WN: Yes, we do take it very seriously. At the same time, there would be ramifications for the US as well if they did decide to withdraw from the treaty. There's a whole raft of co-operative programmes between the Pacific and the US outside of this treaty including various cooperation and monitoring control and surveillance and in just the broader management of the fisheries through things like the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. So as I say, I think it's incumbent on everybody to make this work, certainly not just the Pacific Island Parties.
DM-C: So what's the next step from here? When will talks resume?
WN: Well, what we're working on at the moment is consulting with regional fisheries ministers through the chairman of the Forum Fisheries committee to see if we can convene some dialogue between the ministers themselves on how we can move forward. We're in the early stages of that at the moment having only just finished the negotiations last week. But what we're looking to do is to find an opportunity to take a step back and have a look at what is working and what isn't working and to see whether there are ways that we can get things back on track and provide a long term view.
DM-C: One of the issues that arose with the most recent negotiations is that the people who were representing the Pacific Island Parties didn't have the correct mandate to agree to some of the concessions the United States wanted. So will this next special session, will it be ministers coming in, or will they give some kind of grant to their representatives to have special powers or is that yet to be worked out?
WN: Yeah, I think that's the type of thing that we will need to be discussing internally. At this stage, there are no plans for a next session with the United States. But this issue about the mandate of the officials, the reason there was no mandate was because essentially, some of the expectations the US laid out were for exemptions to conservation and management measure that the Pacific has put in place that apply to every other fishing vessel in the region. That's why it's not just simply a matter that you can sit in a single meeting and decide to hand out an exemption to one country over another.
DM-C: That sounds a little cheeky on the US's part.
WN: Yeah well we've obviously got a long relationship with the US. The treaty's 27 years old and over the years there's been a lot of cases where one party has helped out another party when they've been in a bind and also a lot of cases where we haven't helped each other out as well and I think we're just in one of those situations at the moment. You know, over the 27 years that the treaty has been in place the fishery and the region have both changed very very dramatically so it shouldn't really come as a surprise to us that we may need to amend the treaty itself very dramatically as well to match those new situations.
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