US-Pacific fisheries treaty signed in Nadi
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- Published: Wednesday, 21 December 2016 15:59
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By Giff Johnson
December 3, 2016
Nadi, Fiji — Pacific island fisheries officials and the United States government signed a six-year extension to a nearly 30-year-old fisheries treaty, confirming American-flagged purse seiners access to lucrative Pacific fishing grounds.
The signing ends seven years of often troubled negotiations that almost broke down early in 2016 when the U.S. government formally notified Pacific Island governments of its intention to withdraw from the treaty when negotiators could not agree on new financial terms.
At Saturday’s signing at the Novotel Hotel in Nadi, U.S. Ambassador to Fiji Judith Cefkin said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had signed the paperwork to rescind the notice of withdrawal, confirming that today’s signing ceremony for the treaty extension could happen.
The treaty gives the U.S. purse seine fishing fleet access to the region and provides both an industry payment of $45 million per year and U.S. government fisheries aid of $21 million annually to all 17 members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency who signed the agreement. The western and central Pacific tuna fishery is valued at over US$5 billion annually.
The new treaty offers “a more solid and sustainable basis for cooperation,” said Cefkin. It provides increased benefit for Pacific island nations and “more certainty for the U.S. fleet,” she said.
The agreement was hammered out earlier this year after 18 formal negotiation rounds over seven years, and the formal signing Saturday took place on the eve of the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that starts in Nadi on Monday.
“At times it didn’t feel like we’d be able to reach agreement,” said James Movick Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency. The successful conclusion of the agreement is “a testament to the long history of the treaty and the friendship with the United States.”
Both Movick and Cefkin said the treaty extension recognizes changes in the western Pacific fishery and the changing nature of the relationship with the U.S. The extension is to run from January 2017 through 2022