Issues at the Pacific Islands Forum in Marshall Islands | Pacific Beat

Issues at the Pacific Islands Forum in Marshall Islands

Issues at the Pacific Islands Forum in Marshall Islands

Updated 9 September 2013, 11:03 AEST

The annual Pacific Islands Forum has wrapped up in Marshall Islands with relations between the host nation and two of its largest aid donors under some strain.

The forum communique supported the Marshall Islands in its dispute with the United States over nuclear contamination while Taiwan suffered a diplomatic snub.

Presenter: Sean Dorney

DORNEY: It's two major aid donors are Taiwan and the United States. In relation to Taiwan, the building where the convention took place or the Convention Centre where the Forum took place was actually built by the Taiwanese as a gift to the people of the Marshall Islands, but the Taiwanese Ambassador was turned away when it turned up to be a witness or sit in the crowd to watch the post Forum dialogue, because China is a post-Forum dialogue member and Taiwan is not, and over the years we've seen that there's always been a separate meeting between the six leaders of the Pacific Island countries that recognise Taiwan and Taiwan which normally happens after the post-Forum dialogue.
We were told that was originally going to be in that same building, but at the last moment, that was shifted to a totally different venue. 
I understand the Taiwanese Ambassador was a little miffed that he wasn't even allowed to sit and watch the post-Forum dialogue. And there was a whole series of attempts to cover up the sign in the foyer to this building, a large plaque there saying that it had been built by Taiwan. There were various attempts during the week to put posters and things in front of that building and there seemed to be some differences between different officials, because those posters were put in place and then removed,. so you could see the plaque and then put back again and then removed. Anyway the Post Forum Dialogue session between those six countries and Taiwan did go ahead at a different venue a little later.
In relation to the United States, there was that forum communique resolution on Nuclear Contaminant and the leaders recalled that the Republic of the Marshall Islands was put by the international community under a trusteeship of the United Nations, that that was a UN trusteeship that the US administers during all that nuclear testing program in the late 40s and 50s. And considering that the US and the UN were both involved, the Pacific Island countries have called upon the UN and the US to act on a special rapporteur's report that went to the UN Human Rights Council in September of 2012, which had various recommendations about what should be done to keep helping the people of the Marshall Islands as a result of the ongoing effects of nuclear contaminants.
Sally Jewell, the Secretary for the Interior, a member of President Obama's Cabinet did attempt the Post Forum Dialogue and she held a press conference after that.
A question was put to her about the US reaction to this call on the United States to do more and she referred the question to the US Ambassador, Tom Hart Armbruster, who said the United States position was that they had this agreement with the Marshall Islands government signed sometime ago, at which they had paid the compensation and that that would bring the end to any legal action. But the attitude of the Marshall Islands and most of the rest of the Pacific Island countries who were supporting them is that they're actually more does need to be done. Tom Armbruster, the US Ambassador, said there were ongoing health programs, and that they would engage with the Marshall Islands government, but this question of compensation, extra compensation, there seems to be a bit of a deadlock there.
COUTTS: And, of course, Rongalat ? more recently has thrown their hat into the ring. They say they only get $75 per person, per quarter and Rongalat ?? because it wasn't bombed directly is just that it was in the line of the contaminated fallout, so they apparently are also trying to raise the issue of compensation again. So for Marshall Islands point of view, Sean, it's not over?
DORNEY: No, and it's a very big issue in the Marshall Islands and that special rapporteur's report does have a list of things that it believes should be done by the United States and by the United Nations and by the Marshall Islands government. So we haven't heard the end of this one.
COUTTS: All right, moving on, what did the Forum decide about the Pacific Plan?
DORNEY: Well Sir Mekere Morauta did have a session with the leaders in which he outlined their preliminary recommendations on the Pacific Plan, which is I understand it are not full of praise for the Forum Secretariat and what the leaders have decided is that they will look forward to the final review report of Sir Mekere Morauta's team, which is going to be submitted to the Secretariat by the end of October. But the leaders have actually decided that that report should actually be studied by Forum officials, the Forum Officials Committee to review and consider it before it is then passed onto the leaders, but there's going to be a special leaders retreat within six months after the receipt of that report. So if the report is handed over by the end of October, I expect we'll see a special leaders retreat sometime in the first few months of next year to consider what they do about the recommendations Sir Mekere Morauta has made in relation to the Pacific Plan.
One regional trade issue, there's an interesting comment considering how much we've done on the PACER Plus negotiations. This may come as a bit of a surprise to you Geraldine, but the communique says that trade officials have been directed to actively build on the substantial progress made in the PACER Plus negotiations. I'm not sure that a lot of people believe substantial progress has been made there.
COUTTS: No, in fact, PACER Plus, the negotiations have gone very quiet?
DORNEY: Yes, well that's there's just this one sort of reference to regional trade. Leaders have urged those Pacific Island countries that haven't yet fully implemented PICTA which is the agreement between the Pacific Island countries, that doesn't include Australia and New Zealand, that to ratify the PICTA Trade In Services Protocol, but in relation to PACER Plus, which does involve Australia and New Zealand, there's this suggestion that substantial progress has been made. Well, we'll see how much more progress gets made in the next 12 months I think.
COUTTS: How much of this is Fiji's expansion of the MSG to happily include other nations into that organisation?
DORNEY: Well, the MSG Free Trade Agreement seems to be going much, much faster than the PICTA which is the general trade agreement. But in relation to PACER Plus, of course, Fiji is not included in those negotiations. They're informed about what is going on. Before we see any real progress in PACER Plus, we're going to have to have Fiji back in the Pacific Islands Forum and that's at least 12 months away and if Bainimarama wins those elections, it maybe even further than that.
COUTTS: All right. Any other points you'd like to tell us about as a result of this Marshall Islands Forum or Pacific Islands Forum in Marshall Islands?
DORNEY: Hmm, yes. Just one final point, Cuba has been admitted as a Post Forum Dialogue partner. Leaders have agreed to admit Cuba as the 15th Post Forum Dialogue partner. But Spain, who had also applied, leaders have agreed to defer consideration of Spain's application for the Post Forum Dialogue membership to their next meeting/ This may just be in terms of when those applications were put. But there is a bit of disquiet in various countries in the Pacific towards Spain on fisheries issues and the increasing number of Spanish fishing vessels that are coming down into the Pacific now. So I'm not sure if that anything to do with it, but Spain's application is going to be considered next year.

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