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Pacific Islands Want Duty–Free Access To US Tuna Markets

The Pacific Island nations are working towards a new trade and development agreement with the United States.

At a meeting in Samoa last week, Pacific trade ministers told the forum secretariat to make discussions with the US a priority for Pacific leaders.

Shiu Raj, Director of Economic Governance at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, says the Pacific region can't afford to stay isolated from the global trade environment

“There are other regions which have been able to successfully conclude quite an interesting trading arrangement with the United States of America,” Raj said.

“As a consequence, they have been able to get their products into the respective markets, including deals which actually allows for investments.”

Jerry Finin, Co-director of the East-West Center's Pacific Islands Development Program, says Pacific interest in a trade deal will fall on fertile ground in Washington.

“During the course of the last four years of the Obama administration, there has been a very serious effort to engage more with the Pacific region,” Finin said.

“That was evident, for example at the last Pacific Islands forum meeting when Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, attended and had a chance to meet with many of the leaders.”

With more than half of the world's tuna caught in the Pacific region, the United States is keen to get access to the Pacific region for its fishing rights.

Dr Transform Aqorau, Director of the office representing the 8 nations with the richest tuna resource, says it was the difficult negotiations with the US for an extension of its tuna treaty that led to plans for a broader trade and development agreement.

“When we started off with the negotiations, because the US was given preferential access to 16 exclusive economic zones, we wanted them to reciprocate by also giving preferential access to our tuna products into their market,” he said.

Dr Aqorau says he believes the new deal has the potential to increase the investment in fishing.

“If we can develop a trade and development agreement with the United States, I am sure it is going to add value to investment and make investments worthwhile,” he said.

While the Pacific has found it hard to grow its trade and investment links with the US, the trade ministers are keen for that to change.

They told the forum secretariat to secure funding for a study to look at what issues should be tackled in the new agreement.

“We are going to undertake quite a comprehensive assessment to determine what this trade arrangement should actually contain,” Raj said.

“In any trade agreement, it is very important for us to structure that agreement in such a way so that the private sector is able to capitalise on the opportunities for such as deal.

“For the Pacific Island countries to be able to export to the USA, they need to overcome quite a few hurdles and many of these are actually non-trade barriers,” he said.

Pacific Island leaders will hold talks with United States officials during their annual summit in Majuro early September.