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By Janet David

KOLONIA, Pohnpei, FSM (May 1, 1998 - The Island Tribune)--- On July 9, 1998, President Jacob Nena signed into law Public Law No. 10-11, establishing a body, the Joint Committee on Economic Negotiations (JCN), that will assist the Nation in preparing for renegotiation of the Compact of Free Association.

The purpose of the JCN, according to an internal working paper dated April 9, 1998, is to lay the groundwork for a negotiating team, by collecting and carrying out analyses of data and information pertinent to the development of a brief for use in negotiations with the United States.

An appropriation of $200,00 has already been made by the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) Congress to fund the work of the JCN.

The Compact is an agreement between the FSM and the U.S. through which the FSM Government receives approximately $l00 million annually. Immigration and student benefits are also provided for in the Compact. Most of the financial assistance ends after 15 years. However, the Compact, per se, does not end.

The year 2001 marks the expiration of the basic block grants (Section 211 of the Compact), CAT Team grants (Section 212), energy self-sufficiency grants (Section 214), communication grants (Section 215), and maritime surveillance, health and medical, and post-secondary education scholarship grants, not Pell Grant, (Section 216). Other sections on the Compact remain intact without any expiration date.

According to the JCN's working paper, the Committee's approach proceeds from the basic perception that the Compact itself expresses an ongoing relationship that continues indefinitely unless terminated by one or both of the parties. According to this approach, only specific sections, mainly those concerning funding, need to be renegotiated.

The document states that the JCN should report continually to the National and State leaders, including the President and the FSM Congress. Members, it states, will travel continually throughout the States of the FSM in the course of their work, for purposes of data gathering and public information.

As a component of the JCN activity, the FSM's Ambassador to the United States, Jesse Marehalau, maintains appropriate contacts with officials of the U.S. Government. The FSM, the working paper states, has accumulated archives of the original Compact negotiations and the Congressional approval process in Washington, D.C., and has developed a database for accessing those records.

The working paper states that the "overall goal of the FSM is to develop an honest and convincing case for future U.S. assistance to the FSM, the nature of which, as to form, substance and duration, would be guided by objective professional analysis."

It adds that a closely-associated goal is to express a fair picture of the progress of the Nation, during the years of the Compact, focusing particularly on its use and application of all forms of U.S. and other external assistance." The "fairness" principle, it states, "includes consideration for the relatively short time that has elapsed so far, and for comparable experiences of other developing countries, particularly other Small Island Developing States (SIDS)."

In a recent interview, JCN Vice President Epel Ilon and JCN Executive Director Asterio Takesy confirmed the Committee's view that the Compact itself defines which sections are to be negotiated at which time and that the FSM is working within those parameters. Ilon and Takesy said this will not be the first time the FSM Government has needed to negotiate changes to the Compact. Takesy said the FSM has been successful in past negotiations in gaining benefits for the country. As an example, Takesy pointed out that the FSM Embassy in Washington, D.C. was initially established as a representative office. It was amendments to the Compact, negotiated by the FSM Government, that transformed the office into a full embassy under international diplomatic standards. He also stated that the Pell Grant assistance was only intended to last four years after the Compact went into effect, but was later made available to FSM citizens on a more permanent basis.

Cheryl Martin, Charge d'Affairs of the U.S. Embassy, said the Pell Grant was not part of the Compact agreement, but of supplementary agreements. Martin said the Pell Grant came from a different kind of legislation which was amended to make it applicable to all the 50 states of the US and the Freely Associated States.

She agreed that the economic aspect of the Compact is really the meat of the negotiations; but added that it is still possible that other things could be brought up during the negotiations. Martin said that while the economic section designates a certain time frame for renegotiations, there was no time given for renegotiating other provisions of the agreement, although Section 421 (of Article II, Title Four of the Compact) states that either party may request discussions on matters relating to the provisions of the Compact or any related agreements.

Martin asserted that the U.S. is also preparing for the negotiations. An Inter-Agency Group has been set up to gather information about the Compact and to assess the successes and failures of its programs in the FSM, among other things. The group is also gathering input from the various agencies of the U.S. government, such as the Department of Interior and FEMA, that provide technical assistance to the FSM. The group is said to be meeting on a regular basis.

The JCN consists of one representative from each of the four states of the FSM: Chairman Petrus Tun of Yap; Lt. Governor Manuel Sound of Chuuk; Lt. Governor Gerson Jackson of Kosrae and Dr. Olter Paul of Pohnpei. The four representatives from each Congressional delegation include Senators Joseph Urusmal, Peter Christian and Yosiwo George and Speaker Jack Fritz. The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Epel Ilon, was designated by Public Law No. 10-11, which created the JCN. Other members of the JCN include Executive Director Takesy and Staff Counsel James Stovall, III.

The Island Tribune

P.O. Box 2222 Kolonia, Pohnpei Federated States of Micronesia 96941 TEL: (691) 320-8888 FAX: (691) 320-8888 E-MAIL: islandtribune@mail.fm WWW: http://www.islandtribune.com

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