Economic and climate resilience were key focus points of a meeting between the New Zealand and Cook Island government last week.
The 2019 Joint Ministerial Forum was held on Aitutaki and included Cook Island Prime Minister Henry Puna, his deputy Mark Brown and ministers Vaine Mokoroa and Robert Tapaitau.
The New Zealand delegation included deputy prime minister Winston Peters, cabinet minister Stuart Nash and foreign affairs undersecretary Fletcher Tabuteau.
Mr Tabuteau said the meeting focussed on a range of issues including infrastructure development, security, fisheries, the Pacific Islands Forum, climate change and health.
He said it was important for New Zealand to facilitate positive long-term outcomes in these areas.
“And actually part of the Pacific Reset conversation around the is how do we productively spend money now around resilience, sustainability , economic transformation so that in 10 years from now were not just spending another dollar on aid or recovery or things like that.”
Mr Tabuteau said there was also an emphasis on improving health support for Cook Islanders.
“How can we do more for you in terms of what do we do in New Zealand, and how can we extend that to the Cooks in a systematic way?”
It was the seventh time the meeting had been held between New Zealand the Cook Islands.
President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands Hilda Heine, and President of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo, US President Donal Trump and President of the Republic of Palau Tommy E. Remengesau. Photo: Faceook/ US Embassy Kolonia.
Pacific analysts say a meeting between US President Donald Trump and the Freely Associated States has ignored climate change.
The historic event on Tuesday with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia renewed Washington’s ties to the states.
But a joint-statement released later made no specific mention of climate change, a key issue for Pacific Island states.
Amy Searight from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said the US had instead focused on security cooperation.
“Overall there’s not been a huge change in approach. For the Trump administration, the real challenge is climate change, the number one priority obviously for the Pacific Island nations. And the Trump administration is doing nothing on climate change so that’s a big mismatch in priority.”
Pacific analyst Tess Newton Cain, of TNC consulting, said the comments coming out of Tuesday meeting paled compared with the attention Pacific leaders have given the issue at summits like the Pacific Islands Forum.
“There was no reference to whether there had been any discussion between the Pacific leaders and President Trump about the US rejoining the Paris agreement, which we might have expected them to talk about.”
Instead, issues leaders of at least two of the three Pacific nations at Tuesday’s meeting honed in on was China’s growing influence in the region.
Last week, Palau President Tommy Remengesau said in an opinion piece that China was threatening the Pacific with expansionism and militarisation.
And on Tuesday, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine told the US defence secretary that China was placing economic pressure on her country.
“There’s growing concern that China is to some degree perhaps meddling in the political processes of these countries, trying to tip the scales for elections or other kinds of things,” said Dr Searight.
According to Palau-based journalist Bernadette Carreon, Pacific leaders were also using global fears over China as leverage with other vying partners.
She said Mr Remengesau’s opinion piece was uncharacteristically bullish in tone and may help extract concessions from the US, especially leading into the renegotiations of the Compacts of Free Association due to start soon.
“It’s like they’re dangling a carrot – it’s China.”
The European Union says its new funding agreement with marine agencies in the Pacific will help prevent fish laundering in the region.
The EU, along with Sweden, has pledged $US52 million to working with the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community, the Regional Environment Programme and the University of the South Pacific over the next five years.
Christopher Wagner of the EU delegation for the Pacific said illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is theft and tighter rules are essential.
Mr Wagner said much of the fish caught in Pacific waters is transferred from one ship to another and up to eighty percent of it is processed in Asian countries.
“What we are supporting through this programme is to develop new technologies and monitoring, for example drones, we are also working through the FFA (Forum Fisheries Association) with the countries to look more at trans-shipments. For example many of these days, you know that term money laundering, and there’s also something called fish laundering,” Christopher Wagner said.
Mr Wagner said some of the funding will go towards better regulation of illegal catches passing through Pacific ports, with more prosecutions and higher fines.
He said coastal fisheries management, marine science and biodiversity projects will also receive a boost from the funding which was announced at last week’s Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Nauru.
Four key regional agencies have signed a deal with the European Union to help promote sustainable management and sound ocean governance in the Pacific.
The agencies, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the University of the South Pacific, have signed the deal this week in Nauru.
Called, the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership Programme, it will address, among other things, the depletion of fish resources and the threat to marine biodiversity, including climate change and disasters.
EU representative Jean-Louis Ville said there was an urgent need to act.
“We trust that we are now at the right time to form a joint alliance and coalition on issues related to international ocean governance for which the Pacific European programme will form a very solid foundation,” he said.
The five year programme is funded by the European Union providing $US40.5 million ($NZ61.8 million) and the government of Sweden $US11.6m ($NZ17.7m).
It will be used to support regional and national level activities in the Pacific.
US extends military spending in Pacific
The United States said it planned to give $US7m in military spending to Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga.
Speaking in Nauru, US Secretary for Interior Ryan Zinke said the money would support training equipment and other security co-operation priorities identified by these Pacific nations.
In addition, the US will provide $US750,000 a year in international military exercise and training to PNG, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to support training for military and police forces.
The US will also assist PNG with harbour security during APEC in Port Moresby in November.
It is part of the $US290m commitment by the US to support foreign militaries in the Indo-Pacific region.
Following concerns raised by the Pacific Islands Forum last year, the US offered to support Pacific Islands countries implement the United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea.
Australia offers new assistance to Nauru
Australia has announced new assistance to Nauru to help fight disease, empower women and support next year’s elections.
Canberra’s providing an extra $US1.01m to help fight non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Another $US720,000 will go towards supporting women’s empowerment over the next three years.
Nearly half a million will go towards building up the Nauru Electoral Office in a programme which New Zealand is also funding.
Australia said the plan was to create a better-informed electorate and implement more transparent and inclusive electoral processes.
The extra assistance was announced on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Nauru.
All up, Australia’s planning to spend more than $US18.6m to support Nauru in the coming year.
New Zealand and Japan are to work together to ensure the success of the Pacific Climate Change Centre in Samoa.
New Zealand foreign minister Winston Peters says New Zealand is committed to supporting climate change action across the Pacific and it sees the Pacific Climate Change Centre as a key regional institution.
He says the Climate Change Centre will help Pacific nations combat the impacts of climate change over the coming decades.
The centre is already under construction at the Apia campus of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Environment Programme in Apia and expected to open in the middle of next year.
Mr Peters says New Zealand is putting up US$1.96 million dollars for the centre.
Reaping greater economic benefit from regional fisheries is expected to be high on the agenda at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Nauru this week.
Increasing the yield of the Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery shows the greatest potential for growth.
The Pacific tuna fishery provides 60 percent of the global catch with around two-thirds of it coming from Forum countries’ waters.
The Forum Fisheries Agency, or FFA, reports positive economic growth figures within these fisheries.
However, Pacific stakeholders say more can be done.
FFA figures show two-thirds of the catch is taken by foreign vessels and as much as 90 percent of the fish is processed overseas.
A joint regional taskforce has been set up to tackle these areas and extract more value through longline fishery reform and value chain participation.
Increasing ways to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing will also be a focus and one that underpins the new regional security framework, the Biketawa Plus, which may be ratified on Nauru.
An online reporting tool for fisheries management is gaining popularity in the Pacific, the Pacific Community (SPC) says.
OnBoard is free software developed by SPC which works on smart phones and tablets.
It improves the speed and accuracy with which boat captains can record their daily catch and upload data for fisheries managers to access.
SPC data analyst Andrew Hunt said traditional paper recording, which was still widely used, took a lot of time to process and was prone to errors.
Since OnBoard’s release last year there had been growing interest from Pacific countries for it be used on boats operating in their waters, Mr Hunt said.
“We have had nearly a hundred trips that have been reported electronically. Which is quite a good amount considering how difficult it is to get these tablets onto the boats,” he said.
“When we look at the data I think some of the positional information is more accurate because it can use the GPS onboard the tablet. And we have less problems with log sheets that can’t be interpreted.”
OnBoard was being used on boats in New Caledonia, Fiji, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, Mr Hunt said.
The SPC was also working on translating the interface, currently available in English and French, into Chinese and other languages.
The Forum Fisheries Agency says the Pacific is facing big challenges as it embraces digital technology.
A systems analyst for the agency said that in the fisheries sector, work to digitise information was ongoing and labour intensive.
Ano Tisam said many organisations and governments in the region still used pen and paper.
He said to move ahead, information needed to be accessible in a digital format and properly stored and archived.
“We used technology to help Pacific governments to move away from what they are doing in terms of paper, and transitioning them over to digital technologies so that they can improve the way that they do things to make things more efficient and more effective.”
Ano Tisam was visiting New Zealand from Solomon Islands as a guest speaker at last week’s Pacific Tech Summit in Auckland.
An independent adjudicator in New York has dismissed an objection to the re-certification of sustainable tuna fisheries controlled by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, or PNA.
Its eight member nations control about half the global supply of skipjack tuna, the most commonly canned variety.
The objection was lodged by the International Pole and Line Foundation whose members are thought to dominate tuna supply to the United Kingdom.
The PNA’s commercial manager, Maurice Brownjohn, said the objection appeared to have been supported by donors in the UK.
“And this is a market where we are increasingly getting market share because of the ability of this region to provide independently certified and high quality chain of custody for validating certification claims of the products that come from this region”
Maurice Brownjohn said the objection was led by a Queen’s Counsel and a team of barristers exposing it as the action of commercial interests and not fishermen.
The re-certification was granted by the Marine Stewardship Council for the PNA’s skipjack and yellowfin fisheries and now covers waters belonging to the territory of Tokelau, which is not a PNA member.