|June 20, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|WASHINGTON, D.C.—FALEOMAVAEGA MEETS WITH PRIME MINISTER OF TONGA TO DISCUSS MATTERS OF REGIONAL IMPORTANCE|
| Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the Prime Minister of Tonga, HRH Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, and his Secretary of Civil Aviation met with Faleomavaega on June 5, 2003 in his Washington, D.C. office.
“The Prime Minister and I had the pleasure of discussing issues that are important to both Tonga and American Samoa,” the Congressman said. “First and foremost we discussed the need to establish maritime boundaries between Tonga, the Independent State of Samoa and American Samoa.”
“Maritime boundaries are geographical points which define, for example, our fishing waters. As of now, no maritime boundaries exist between our governments and this has led to confusion regarding our fishing rights. At times, the U.S. has had to seize foreign fishing vessels that have crossed into American Samoa’s exclusive economic zone. When the U.S. seizes a vessel, it usually issues a fine and seizes any fish that was illegally caught or sold.”
“Given that our governments are dependent on the fishing industry, it is important to establish and protect our fishing grounds. This is why I have been working with the U.S. State Department and have requested that the U.S. work directly with the governments of Tonga and Samoa so that we can come to terms and agreements about our maritime boundaries,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“As of June 19, 2003, the U.S. State Department informed me that the government of Tonga has submitted its data for consideration and that by the fall the State Department will be ready to move forward with negotiations with Samoa and Tonga. In these instances, the U.S. State Department also acts on behalf of American Samoa,” Faleomavaega said.
“Because these agreements and boundaries are so important for the protection of our fishing grounds and eventually our mineral rights, I am pleased that we are making progress on this issue. I am also pleased that the Prime Minister invited me to Tonga to continue our discussions. The U.S. State Department is making arrangements for my visit which will coincide with the King’s 85th birthday.”
“As the Ranking Member of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, I am hopeful that our Pacific Islands nations will continue to work closely with the U.S. so that we can address other issues of mutual concern, including trade agreements that protect and expand our fisheries. Like I have said before, the ocean is our farm and the possibilities for the region are endless. The Kingdom of Tonga, for instance, is now specializing in exporting fresh tuna to the West Coast and Japanese sushi markets and is also being paid top dollar for its fish,” Faleomavaega said. “I believe our local business leaders and government officials should also explore this possibility as another means of economic development. At the same time, I believe we should work together to control the number of foreign vessels that are coming into the Western Pacific Tropic to fish.”
“Finally, I believe it would be in our interest to find a regional solution for our aviation problems. American Samoa is currently faced with significant fare increases and Hawaiian Airlines no longer services the Tongan Islands and these problems are now affecting the ability of our local governments to provide reasonable and affordable air service to our people. If we work together, we may be able to find solutions that would be mutually beneficial to all of us.”
“Due to the importance of these issues, I am looking forward to continuing my discussions with the Prime Minister. I am also pleased that Senator Daniel Akaka met with us to discuss these and other matters on the evening of June 6, 2003 at a dinner I hosted for the Prime Minster. Other guests included the Prime Minister’s Secretary of Civil Aviation, the Chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Senator Akaka’s lovely wife, Millie. Discussions were productive and I am certain that our upcoming meeting in Tonga will be another step in resolving regional concerns,” the Congressman concluded.
Photo 1: Faleomavaega and Tonga Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Ulukalala Lavaka Ata.
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