US, Pacific forge ahead with fisheries treaty

Monday 5 December 2016, Sheraton Denarau, NADI FIJI ISLANDSThe fisheries access deal between the US and Pacific countries is back on track with a newly-signed agreement.  The Agreement runs to 2020 and offers a 2017 package worth up to US70m in fisheries access and development assistance to Pacific nations.
Initially struck in principle in the wee hours of a weekend morning at the 18th negotiation session in Auckland this June, the 2017 Treaty deal was prepped for signature by officials for the US and FFA members in Nadi over the weekend, with more signing done as the 3th Pacific Tuna Commission meet began today.
The multilateral Treaty has paved the way for US vessels to fish in the Pacific since 1987, as well as delivering useful economic assistance from the US Government.  It had been under renegotiation since 2009 and while a series of annually negotiated 12-month deals had kept the arrangement working, the process was mired by setbacks over the last 12 months leading to a major breakdown early this year over the US industry’s non-payment for the 2016 deal. Both parties went to a very public impasse when the Pacific’s refusal to issue licenses was met with a formal notice of Withdrawal from the Treaty, by the US Government.
Looking back on that difficult period in already complex negotiations, FFA Director General James Movick, as administrator for the treaty, commended the “phenomenal effort” from all parties in reaching agreement. 
“For many of us who have been involved in the process there were many times when we honestly didn’t feel that we would be able to reach agreement on fundamental points-- let alone reaching a final outcome as we have here today,” he said at the signing session. 
The 2016-2020 Treaty deal provides a ‘first right of refusal’ to the US fleet for a significant number of fishing days, along with a new flexibility to compete in the market place with other vessel owners. 
“So what we have before us is a newly negotiated Treaty Framework that is ongoing, and pre-agreed access arrangements for the next six years. It has taken us seven years to reach this point and again this highlights the increasing complexity and the changing nature of this relationship even over the period of this negotiation,” DG Movick said. 
He noted the high level directive from Fisheries Ministers in July 2015 and Forum Leaders in August that Pacific negotiations needed to ensure the US Treaty continued, but only on favourable terms.  DG Movick paid homage to former FFC Chair, Fisheries Minister Elisala Pita of Tuvalu.
Pita had signed the original US Treaty in 1987 for Tuvalu, and as Fisheries Minister for Tuvalu in June 2016, had delivered a heartfelt statement (below and attached) at around 3am as the 18th meeting achieved a successful in-principle consensus on a new access fees/aid fees for the next six years.  
“As I said to Pacific leaders, we do need to recognise that the Pacific has a committed, gifted and truly productive crop of senior fisheries officials and Ministers who have been able to serve the region so well, especially late Minister Elisala Pita from Tuvalu,” said DG Movick.
“I was very pleased at the Forum meeting in Pohnpei to be able to report back to the leaders that you, the officials of the Pacific, and our partners in the United States have been able to reach an agreement.”
He says the US Treaty is “one which truly has a number of creative elements to it, and recognises the continuation of a long history and commitment to this treaty process while recognising the changes that are occurring in the region, the increased complexity, challenges and opportunities that are facing the Pacific Island parties in particular, and to which our colleagues in the US fleet and the US government are also having to adapt as we go forward.” – ENDS