My colleagues who attended tell me that the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), hosted this year in Majuro by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, went very well. As I mentioned earlier this month, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell led a large, interagency American delegation composed of senior officials from the White House, our Pacific territories, the Coast Guard, USAID, and several of our Cabinet Departments including State, Energy, Defense, Agriculture, Interior, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.
This was Secretary Jewell’s first international trip since being confirmed by the Senate, and she came to work. Just as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did at last year’s PIF in Rarotonga, she participated fully in the Post-Forum Dialogue on regional issues and development assistance, conducted a series of bilateral meetings (including with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Key), and engaged with citizens and civil society groups. Overall, the U.S. delegation held dozens of meetings with island Heads of Government, other officials, and Pacific stakeholders.
The conversations were robust and detailed, covering the full range of common interests and challenges that the United States and other Pacific nations share, including with respect to climate change, renewable energy, maintaining healthy oceans, environmental stewardship, disaster preparedness, health, sustainable economic development, fisheries management, education, support for civil society institutions, addressing gender inequality and trafficking in persons, and maritime security. Our delegation launched several new programs, announced more than US$ 30 million in new assistance in the region, and discussed the status of ongoing projects.
It is axiomatic that climate change is a defining challenge of our time and that many of our Pacific islands neighbors are especially vulnerable. Among other projects and commitments in this area that Secretary discussed at the PIF was the U.S. Agency for International Development’s launch of a new procurement of US$ 24 million for the Pacific American Climate Fund project to provide and monitor grants for climate change adaptation measures in the region.
Separately, the United States will provide US$ 4.5 million over 5 years for a program called “Disaster Preparedness for Effective Response (PREPARE)” which is focused on strengthening disaster preparedness in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The United States is also supporting the transition to renewable energy through several projects in the region, including the U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership. Designed to drive trade and investment in private and public-private sector energy projects and to thereby facilitate progress on renewable and cleaner energy, this bundle of projects is backed by US$ 6 billion in concessionary financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the United States’ Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
The United States is also collaborating with fellow Pacific countries in other ways to protect the region’s unique natural resources. For example, the Micronesia Biosecurity Plan is a two-phased, US$ 3.8 million effort by the U.S. to evaluate invasive species risks and develop a regionally-vetted Biosecurity Plan. In addition, we are providing numerous grants to advance several Marine Protected Area (MPA) projects and to support education, training, and sustainable aquaculture economic initiatives throughout the Pacific region.
To advance the cause of women’s empowerment in the region, the State Department is expanding the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women, launched by former Secretary Clinton at the 2012 PIF in collaboration with Australia, New Zealand, and other public and private partners. This year we have launched new projects in PNG to support women’s empowerment including the US$ 1.5 million Bougainville Women, Peace, and Security Incentive Fund.
To improve the health of Pacific Islanders, the United States is expanding our already extensive regional health partnerships to embrace a number of new initiatives. Included is a US$ 100,000 grant to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to improve public health data processes to allow for better tracking of trends and for quicker response to outbreaks, as well as individual grants through our Embassies in the region (including Apia) to combat non-communicable diseases. We are also launching the mHealth Mobile Technologies Tobacco Control Initiative, which will use mobile phone technology to help American Samoans and Samoans quit smoking.
There are also a large number of sustainable economic development projects underway. For example, just in our Embassy in Apia we have awarded a half dozen significant grants intended to support the development of small and medium sized enterprises, spur development of new products using Samoa’s natural resources, and build entrepreneurial capacity. Many of our other Embassies in the region are doing likewise.
We also continue our long-standing modus operandi of launching region partnerships so that we can work collaboratively with like-minded friends on issues of common interest.
For example, the United States and New Zealand recently hosted a best-practices exchange forum called “Supporting Economic Empowerment and Development in the Caribbean and Pacific” (a.k.a., SEED CAP) in Jamaica.
SEED CAP brought together island representatives as well as scientific and business experts to discuss best practices and potential projects in the areas of food security, agriculture, and women’s economic empowerment.
Also, the United States and our Pacific islands partners have extended the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which will deliver an additional US$ 40 million to the Pacific islands signatories and advance the cause of more effective and sustainable management of the region’s critical ocean resources.
With respect to peace and security issues, it is always difficult to talk about the United States contributions to maritime security in the Pacific because of the great scope of our ongoing investment and the huge number of individual projects and partners. From our shiprider agreements to meteorological and seismic monitoring, to interdiction activities to capacity-building and interoperability exercises such as Pacific Partnership and RIMPAC, to keeping sea lines open and safe, to responding to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises, there is too much ongoing investment to list, let alone describe.
In terms of recent new initiatives, we have provided an additional US$ 1 million for unexploded ordnance clearance activities in 2013 across the Pacific region, and we have made a commitment to extend that important effort.
Also, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federated States of Micronesia recently completed the inaugural Oceania Maritime Security Initiative patrol, an ongoing program intended to expand the opportunities for partner nations to work side-by-side with U.S. Coast Guard personnel and assets in support of more effective law enforcement and fisheries monitoring.
And of course, all of our Embassies in the region remain focused on supporting the next generation of Pacific leaders through a variety of education, training, and other capacity-building activities. If you browse the websites of our seven Embassies located in PIF member states, you’ll see just how great that commitment is.
You know from my prior posts about our work in that regard here at Embassies Wellington and Apia, includng our annual Connecting Young Leaders conferences, our new Future Leaders of the Pacific (FLP) conferences, and our emphasis on expanding exchange programs. Even though I was unable to attend the PIF myself this year, I was delighted that we were able to send three of our FLP youth as delegates – Joe Iosua of American Samoa, Mele O’Brien of the Solomon Islands, and Isabella Silk of the Marshall Islands.
There are many hundreds of other programs and projects that I could describe, but I don’t want to stray too far from my original topic, the Pacific Islands Forum. Suffice it to say that America’s historical engagement in the Pacific continues unabated, at a magnitude and diversity virtually unquantifiable and certainly unparalleled.