|| Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in letters dated May 26, 2011 and in his official capacity as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific he has called upon Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and, by extension, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the eight Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to work with the U.S. to renew the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, with or without Papua New Guinea (PNG).
“On May 26, 2011, I wrote to President Toribiong of Palau, President Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia, and President Zedkaia of Republic of the Marshall Islands requesting that they move forward with negotiations to renew the Treaty, with or without PNG,” Faleomavaega said. “Yesterday, President Toribiong and I also met in my Washington DC office and we agree that moving forward is in the best interest of all parties.”
“While it is true that the U.S. should pay more attention to the Pacific Island nations and bolster relations both politically and economically, without the presence of the U.S. tuna fishing fleet on the high seas Pacific Island Parties run the risk of deterring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and other suspicious activities.”
“Moreover, the South Pacific Tuna Treaty is a cornerstone of the U.S.-Pacific Island partnership, and its intangible benefits should not be lightly dismissed. The Treaty, which has been in effect since 1987, is not only about tuna. It is about regional security. It is about friendship and shared values. This is why as Subcommittee Chairman I held two hearings on the South Pacific Tuna Treaty because I firmly believe that the importance of this Treaty and the importance of U.S. presence in the region must not be overlooked.”
“Like President Toribiong, I fully agree that the Treaty is not perfect. When it comes to sustainable management of tuna, I support the PNA’s position that the U.S., like all other fishing nations, must uphold conservation measures. I also fully agree that our Pacific Island partners deserve more money. The PNA controls 25-30% of the world’s supply of tuna, and according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the U.S. tuna boats harvest about $250 million worth of tuna annually but the value of the tuna as it moves through the processing and distribution chain may be as much as $500 million or more. And that’s just the U.S. part.”
“Regrettably, for this kind of catch the U.S. only provides about $18 million annually to the Pacific Island Parties in exchange for our tuna boats to fish in the Treaty area, and the U.S. tuna boats only pay a fixed rate of $3 million per year, and above that amount depending on the amount of fish caught and the value of it which last year came to about $6 million.”
“For U.S. tuna boats like those of the South Pacific Tuna Corporation that deplete Pacific Island resources and transship their fish to Thailand to be cleaned by low-wage workers for $0.70 cents and less per hour, I believe their fishing days should be limited.”
“After discussions with the PNA, the FFA, the State Department’s lead negotiator Mr. William Gibbons-Fly, StarKist, and Tri-Marine, I feel we are moving in the right direction, despite PNG’s decision to withdraw from negotiations. Whether or not PNG will choose to join us later is up to PNG. Whatever the case, I want to be clear on one point.”
“I will not support PNG’s push for duty-free access to the U.S. market while it pays its fish cleaners less than American Samoa’s workers. American Samoa’s economy hinges, for now, on canned tuna and I will continue to do everything I can to buy ASG the time it needs to diversify its economy, even if that means making sure PNG has no advantage over us when it comes to canned tuna shipped to the U.S.”
“Having said this, I believe PNG should come back to the table and be a reliable Pacific partner. Given the seriousness of the matter, I do remain hopeful that we can negotiate a new Treaty because failure to renew the Treaty should not be an option for any of us.”
“When it comes to the Treaty, transparency should also be a main objective. As the U.S. does its part to hopefully increase economic assistance to the Pacific Island Parties, in turn we need the Pacific Island Parties to be more transparent about the bilateral agreements they are entering into with other foreign countries because all Pacific Islanders depend on the resources of the ocean and all of us deserve transparency about how our resources are being managed now and for future generations.”
“No longer can we allow Thailand to siphon off our resources and make billions of dollars at our expense. Today, as a result of the resources in our ocean, Thailand is the world’s largest producer of canned tuna but has no fishing fleet of its own. Thailand simply buys the tuna that comes out of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area and then puts our workers out of jobs. I believe Thailand’s dominance via unfair trade practices should stop.”
“My belief is that the playing field must be leveled and I commend all those who are working towards this end,” Faleomavaega concluded.
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA is the Ranking Member and former Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific