Negotiations For U.S./Pacific Tuna Treaty Moving Slowing

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Industry disappointed no formal agreement yet in place

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 3, 2016) – Representatives of the US fishing fleet voiced their disappointment that no formal agreement was reached last week in Fiji, where the discussions took place for a new South Pacific Tuna Treaty between the US and 17 Pacific island nations. They are saying that while the meeting did "inch" them forward in negotiations, however much more needs to be sorted out. There is no new meeting for further discussions currently scheduled.

The current interim Treaty, administered by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), was reached in March this year, and is valid for only 2016, while a new long term Treaty is to be negotiated this year for 2017 and beyond.

As of late yesterday morning FFA has not released — on its website — any statement regarding the outcome of the Fiji meeting.

THE GLOBAL COMPANIES

Samoa News learned of the Fiji meeting in a joint statement Sunday from US based tuna-fleet management company South Pacific Tuna Corporation and The Global Companies (owners of Ocean Global, LLC, Sea Global, LLC, and Pacific Global, LLC), saying that it joined tuna industry leaders and delegates representing American Samoa last week for negotiations between the governments of the US and the Pacific Island nations regarding the 27-year-old Treaty, a cornerstone of commercial support to Pacific island nations.

The statement didn’t identify who represented American Samoa, but yesterday morning, other industry officials, who attended the meeting, told Samoa News that it was Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele who represented the territory. Talauega didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News email questions late yesterday.

J. Douglas Hines, executive director of South Pacific Tuna Corporation, and partner in The Global Companies, said in the statement that the discussions "did inch us closer to achieving our industry goals, but I cannot hide my frustration with our lack of formal progress."

He said, "It is going to take another meeting in the near future to finalize, and in the meantime, ongoing communication on all fronts" — Hines didn’t elaborate further.

From the commercial side, Hines said tremendous strides were made in a short window of time to create a structure that could be workable for all. "The proposal needs refinement, and we are highly aware of the needs of our fishing partners, but we believe that a path can be created for all partners to achieve their stated goals."

Although there remains a need for clarification between the Pacific Fisheries Forum and the US government in a number of areas, he says "the underlying feeling is that the issues can be resolved and discussions can move forward, as long as all involved parties continue to work for the good of all."

Hines stressed that the dissolution of this Treaty would be "devastating to the US fleet and the tuna industry as a whole", collapsing the vessels operating under US flag, as well as the commercial operations that depend on their harvest.

"This has a direct effect on thousands of jobs in the [Pacific] islands nation, American Samoa and in the continental U.S," he said, adding, "Despite our disappointment, concern, and frustration, we remain committed to working with the US government and [US] Congressional leadership in support of a resolution between all parties."

Hine said, "We will be reaching out to those in these positions, as well as those in the Pacific island nations, to develop solutions. The Treaty and related Fleet operations are too important to too many people to give up now."

TUNA BOAT ASSOCIATION

Responding to Samoa News questions, American Tunaboat Association executive director Brian Hallman said, "progress was made" at the Fiji meeting, but a number of issues still need to be sorted out.

For example, the number of fishing days and their cost; the number of years of the access arrangement, which would be part of the Treaty package; how non-fishing day claims will be handled; and the role of the US government in any future bilateral arrangements.

"ATA supports a newly restructured tuna Treaty, but it has to be one that is right for the fleet and for the governments involved," said Hallman, who added that another meeting has not yet been scheduled.

"While some incremental progress was made at the meeting, the overall results were disappointing. ATA plans to be closely involved in future negotiating efforts," he said.

ATA represents the US fleet in Treaty negotiations.

TRI MARINE

Also present at the meeting was Tri Marine International’s chief operation officer Joe Hamby. The company has a purse seine fleet based in American Samoa and owns the locally based Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., cannery.

Responding to Samoa News questions, Tri Marine spokesperson Heidi Happonen first pointed out that the "Treaty is incredibly complicated" and said, "while some progress was made [at the Fiji meeting], it will take time to get through the details of a treaty that impacts a wide range of interests differently."

"Tri Marine continues to be hopeful that negotiations will continue in good faith," she said and deferred any other Samoa News questions from the meeting to Talauega and Lafaele.

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