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Pacific Islands Want Duty Free Access For Tuna Into US Market Pacific Islands Nations, August 16, 12

An important bargaining chip for the Pacific Islands Parties has been taken out of the US/Pacific fishing treaty talks.

And that is market access for Pacific islands tuna into the United States markets.

Following the seventh round of talks in Auckland in June, market access was taken off the negotiating table, causing some unhappiness and anger amongst islands parties. Pacific Islands Parties have used this as a bargaining chip during the extensive talks, which began last year, once a successor treaty agreement was being discussed.

The tuna catch in the Western and Central Pacific, as estimated by environmentalists PEW Trust group, is around USD 4.6 billion per year.

The US has paid about USD 400 million for fishing in Pacific waters since it started in 1988.

It seems that after a meeting between the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency officials, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the United States’ State Department, the bargaining chip was taken out of the US treaty talks and handed to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

PNA rue loss

Parties to the Nauru Agreement secretariat director Dr. Transform Aqorau said the US has preferential access to the Exclusive Economic Zones of the 17 nations in the Pacific but “we do not enjoy the same access to their markets”.

“Access to any market is important because if you can’t sell your fish, it is not possible to go into business,” he said.

“So if you know that you have free access to a market, it will considerably enhance the value of your product, make investments worthwhile, and our domestic industries competitive.”

Aqorau said the US has access to 17 EEZs in the Pacific at less than the premium rates but Pacific Islands States don’t have the same access to US markets.

“I don’t know what the US is making from their tuna sales, but they are making a lot of money, and everyone is also making a lot of money with the high tuna prices.

“The Pacific Islands Parties have still done very well because they have increased their access fees from USD 21 million to USD 63million so that is a 200% increase.”

However, the issue of market access has been taken out by a process that was outside of the negotiations of the Treaty because market and trade access issues are broader than the US Treaty.

“Fisheries officials were only told last January by the then Deputy Director General of Forum Fisheries Agency that he and a senior official of the Forum Secretariat had gone to Washington towards the end of 2011 after the Leaders Meeting with President Barrack Obama in Honolulu.

In a statement after that meeting, the PIPs stated that they thanked the US State department at the Honolulu meeting for considering improvements to the trade and investment arrangements for Pacific Islands countries.

Critical of the wording of the statement, Dr. Aqorau said it “contained a lot of appreciating, welcoming and recognizing”. But there was no constructive progress or outcomes on this matter.

He said it is unlikely this issue would be brought back to the US treaty negotiations.

However at the end of the day he said the 2-year arrangement with the US is an improvement.

7th negotiations

As the United States rightly paraded the proposed new agreement as a great achievement so were Pacific Island Parties.

The agreement reached meets or exceeds the benchmarks articulated by Pacific Island Party Leaders over the course of negotiations by providing:

• USD 63 million annually to the Pacific Islands Parties over the next 10 years, for a total of USD 630 million;
• A payment per vessel day that is more that 50 percent higher than the USD 5,000 per day regional benchmark price established by Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA);
• A 17% return on the value of the fish caught by U.S. vessels licensed under the Treaty under current conditions, which exceeds the 10% average rate of return desired by Pacific Island Leaders; and
• Fair compensation for fishing opportunities in the waters under the jurisdiction of non-PNA States.

“This agreement on the overall financial package is a significant advancement in the negotiations, and creates a strong foundation on which the United States and our Pacific Island partners can continue to build a prosperous and sustainable future for the peoples of the Pacific region,” the US said in a statement.

“The United States looks forward to working with the Pacific Islands Parties to address the remaining technical issues and to reach an early agreement to extend the Treaty.”

Dr. Aqorau said non-PNA nations can make 300 days available to the Treaty.

“This is clearly a new arrangement with those contributing days to the Treaty expecting to get a lion’s share of the Treaty payments for the tuna,” he said.

However, he said there are still other important issues that remain and the negotiations are far from over.

“The matter of national laws and domestic developments are issues still remaining to be sorted out.”

He was also critical of the handling of the market access issue. “I think the final statement reflected the results of the agreement on fees and fishing opportunities,” Dr. Aqorau said.

“What is quite clear from the US statement is that they are paying for these opportunities in Tokelau and PNA waters.”

As the parties head for the eighth round of negotiations in Vanuatu on September 2 , it looks like stormy waters have yet to be cleared as some rough patches are still to be ironed out before a final agreement can be reached.