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PNA Trying To Finalize World Largest Tuna Deal With USA Pacific Islands Nations, September 6, 12

The U.S. and eight Pacific island countries – known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) – continue to discuss the terms for a new treaty of tuna fishing rights this week, and PNA director Dr. Transform Aqorau, is hoping for “broader cooperation” during this round of talks. After the 7th round of negotiations in June, the Pacific island nations were denied duty free access to the U.S. market for their tuna products. Meanwhile, the U.S. agreed to pay USD 63 million for 8000 days, to be reviewed every two years, but Aqorau says that is not enough.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr. Transform Aqorau, director, Parties to the Nauru Agreement.

Dr. Aqorau:
We’re just continuing, Geraldine, because the financial package and the days they were accepted on certain conditions of finalization of other matters. So the negotiations are still going on, they’re certainly no way near completion yet, so this is why we’re meeting here in Vanuatu. And the next round after this is going to be, I think, in Solomon Islands in November.
Coutts: And what are some of those other matters that still need to be finalized?
The issue of national laws and broader cooperation and also internally for the Pacific Island countries, there’s just a small issue of how the fees will be distributed. But on the national laws the issue is that you’ve had this treaty where if you wanted to change your national laws and applied conservation management measures or other conditions you have to get the consent of the United States. And all the Pacific Island countries in order to do that, and for the newer arrangement the Pacific Island countries have said they want more flexibility in the application of their national laws, so that’s one.

The other is broader cooperation, there is provision in the current arrangement for broader cooperation, but there’s a feeling in the last 25 years or so since the treaty that it’s just been token. And so a number of proposals have been put to the United States, like crewing, the right of first refusal on catch to processing plants, just to get more value to the fishery when they fish in the Pacific Island waters. So those are the two key issues that are being discussed. They’re certainly not easy Geraldine, there’s a sense that people want more flexibility to do what they have to do in order to conserve the stocks and they don’t want to be constrained by the United States being able to veto these changes. And so maybe 25 years ago it was the right thing to do but times have changed, you’ve got a fishery environment that’s totally different from what it was 25 years ago and therefore access arrangements should reflect those changes that have taken place in the dynamics in the fisheries.

A key change today is that through the PNA vessel day scheme you’ve created this seller’s market and I’ve been advocating all along and telling the members that if they were to really get the best economic outcomes then they should really move away from access agreements. Even this US treaty in my view is a constraint to the way in which we should be doing business in the region in fisheries.
Well if you do move away from the access treaty, and that’s what came out of the talks last time, the treaty, market access for Pacific Islands to tuna in the United States markets was removed from the discussion. So what are you looking for to replace it?
Well it’s kind of hard because that was one of the key principles that the PNA looked at when they looked at for any future arrangement you should provide market access, because they’re getting preferential access to 16 EEZs and therefore market access creates greater value and enhances the value of your fisheries products. It’s been taken out of the treaty process, there is a secondary process that’s being proposed, and that is just to continue on with some broader trade talks and investment talks with the United States. So if we eventually get market access in a broader sense, not just for fisheries products, then I think those concerns can be covered. But we’re giving preferential fishing rights to the United States vessels in our waters and I think it should be reciprocated by market access for our fisheries products, because that enhances the value of our products.
Well what are the points of differences as far as the US is concerned, they’re unhappy about paying more and you also have been quoted as saying that the deal with the US agreement is more valuable than it actually is?
Yes, I said that because people are contributing days and there’s a minimum benchmark value to days that they’re now contributing. And US boats have access to multiple zones, so what they should be paying is a premium over and above the minimum benchmark.
Because they’ve got access to multiple zones?
That’s right and that’s why I’m saying look you’ve got a much fairer deal than a lot of the Japanese, the Koreans and the Taiwanese who are fishing in the region who have to go and negotiate bilaterally and they have to all meet the minimum benchmark and pay even more when the demand dictates the price of the fish. And you’ve got these American boats that people are putting in money, and so there’s going to be a reluctance generally on the part of those who have paid to contribute if the value of their days that they’re putting into the treaty is not going to be as much as what they would be getting from bilateral. So that’s what I talked about Geraldine with respect to these seller markets that you’ve created through the vessel day scheme, and it’s just sort of diametrically opposed to these kind of arrangements where you have to sit and agree, where the other party has to agree what they say to come and fish in your waters.

So ostensibly though the PNA would like the US to pay more?
Well what they would like to see is more value for their days. They don’t want to see a reduction in the value of the days that they contribute because remember Geraldine it has to be shared with the others in the region. And so the more money that you share the less value of their day that they will contribute, and therefore that then creates a disincentive to put in days to the treaty and then that could potentially jeopardize the treaty because if there’s not enough days to put into the treaty then ultimately won’t be able to have one.
And an announcement that was made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the last Forum in the Cook Islands, which you were already there, was that the US Coastguard will be tracking illegal ships in the region and that it will be using all of its craft in the Pacific to do that, and they’ll be taking on illegal fishing. How do you view that?
We’ve always had a very good relationship with the United States in monitoring control and surveillance, which goes right back to the days when the treaty was established. We had a separate observer MOU with National Oceanic & Atmospheric Agency on enforcement. They’ve had an officer actually physically based at Forum Fisheries Agency helping the Pacific Island countries on enforcement. They’ve also had ship riders’ agreement I think with several countries in the northern Pacific plus the Cook Islands. So the announcement is that the work that they’re doing is actually not necessarily new, what’s new is that they’re calling upon the resources of their naval power, which I guess would augment the framework that we have for monitoring and enforcement in the region. So from that perspective it’s positive all round building upon the very good work that’s already been done with their enforcement agencies for the last 25 years.