Aug 22, 2019 Last Updated 8:37 PM, Aug 21, 2019

THERE are many suitors currently wooing the Pacific islands. Australia is “stepping up” and New Zealand “resetting” its relationship. China comes bearing gifts, India wants to be an Indo-Pacific player, while US officials are reading Twitter to work out their policy towards the “Pacific theatre.” The European Union, however, is everywhere. The EU is promoting the strategic interests of its largest member states and seeking a new relationship with Pacific island countries through a “post-Cotonou” treaty.

For the last 20 years, the Cotonou Agreement has governed relations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP). Now the EU is seeking a strengthened political and economic partnership and enhanced cooperation in multilateral fora. The proposed post-Cotonou deal, however, poses potential pitfalls for island governments and communities.

Since the 1970s, relations between the 28-member EU and 79 former European colonies have been governed by a series of treaties. The Lomé Convention (1975-2000) opened the way for subsidised trade between the EU and some Forum member states, including fish exports from Papua New Guinea and sugar from Fiji. The Cotonou Agreement (2000-2020) was extended to cover aid, trade, human rights and political dialogue, with
the EU pledging to sign Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with six regions around the world.

Last October, the EU and ACP launched formal negotiations to find a successor to the Cotonou Agreement, which ends in February 2020. In February, Apia hosted an EU-ACP High Level Dialogue, attended by the ACP Chief Negotiator Robert Dussey and EU Chief Negotiator Neven Mimica.

The proposed post-Cotonou framework includes a foundation agreement and three separate regional protocols for Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific. Last June, Pacific members of the ACP Group (PACP) met again to discuss the proposed Pacific-EU protocol. The outcomes document of this meeting records that Pacific governments recognise “the post-Cotonou Agreement will set the direction of the partnership between the Pacific and the EU for the next twenty years.”

Samoa and Papua New Guinea are the two Pacific leads in ACP ambassadoriallevel negotiations, with Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi noting: “In the formative years of the EU-Pacific partnership, the consultations were mainly focused on aid related matters and in particular implementation issues, which were seen as a perennial problem added to by procedural complexities. In recent times and in the context of the Cotonou Agreement, trade and the political dimension of the relationship have been added, with trade domination of the discussions.”

Nearly two decades ago, the Cotonou Agreement was due to be signed in Suva in June 2000. However, the Speight coup of May 2000 put paid to that, and the African nation of Benin hosted the signing ceremony. Now, the ACP Council of Ministers has unanimously agreed the new agreement should be signed in Samoa next June.

Will the signing proceed on schedule? Negotiations are still underway, but there are significant differences over trade, migration, labour mobility and co-operation mechanisms. Here are a number of roadblocks on the path to a post-Cotonou deal….

1) Finalising a deal on schedule
Speaking in Brussels in May, Secretary General of the ACP Patrick Ignatius Gomes expressed concern that a final text will not be ready for signature by the 79 ACP states in February 2020 – the date when the 20-year Cotonou Agreement ends. Dr. Gomes said there is a need to adopt transitional measures until a new agreement enters into force, if negotiations continue past February. At their June 2019 meeting, Pacific leaders endorsed the need to prepare a transitional agreement, recognising “The post-Cotonou negotiations (PCN) and Regional Protocol negotiations timetable is extremely ambitious.”

Throughout the whole 20-year period of the Cotonou Treaty, the EU and Pacific Islands Forum failed to finalise a comprehensive regional Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) for the Pacific. The tortured negotiations over the regional EPA left a sour taste in the mouth of Pacific negotiators.

Are we heading for the same problem again, with the EU prioritising Africa over the Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean and Pacific? With outstanding differences over key issues like trade, migration and labour mobility, there’s a long way to go before the finalisation of a new treaty. There are still two of six areas in the framework agreement where EU and ACP negotiators cannot agree: ‘Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Development’, and ‘Migration and Mobility.’ 

Unless the EU addresses regional concerns, lengthy negotiations for a post-Cotonou deal seem like a fair bet!

2) A new framework for co-operation
The notorious bureaucracy and complexity of EU aid delivery has long been an area of disagreement with Pacific governments, especially smaller island states. But now the EU is seeking to change its aid budgeting and delivery. In a post-Cotonou world, there are signs that the EU wants to shift away from the European Development Fund (EDF), which has been a crucial mechanism for both regional and national-level funding to the Pacific.

The EU is also debating new multilateral frameworks for political co-operation. Currently, the EU is a Dialogue Partner within the Pacific Islands Forum, alongside individual EU members (Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Spain). Would a new EU-ACP structure sideline the Forum Dialogue, where the Pacific talks directly to all 18 Dialogue Partners at one time?

3) Boris Johnston and the dis-United Kingdom
The Australian and NZ governments are promoting the United Kingdom’s return to the region, dubbed “Pacific Uplift”, as a crucial contribution to the containment of China. But Westminster is in chaos with debate over Brexit, the likely ascendance of Boris Johnston as Prime Minister and anger in Scotland over the planned withdrawal from the EU. It’s not yet clear what Britain will contribute to the Pacific if Brexit is ever finalised.

As this uncertainty extends, the ACP Group have expressed deep concern that a revised EU-UK trade deal will adversely affect access for ACP exporters to both markets. Will the EU and Britain prioritise the interests of Pacific exporters like Fiji and Papua New Guinea in their negotiations for the Brexit withdrawal from the EU? Don’t hold your breath!

4) A French gateway to Europe?
Brussels sees the EU’s network of Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) – ongoing French and British colonies – as a crucial asset in the post-Cotonou deal. But what does this mean for Pacific island countries’ commitment to decolonisation for New Caledonia and French Polynesia? The United Kingdom retains its colonial presence in the region with Pitcairn, a major bulwark against Chinese expansionism. In contrast, France asserts sovereignty over 7 million square kilometres of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), through its control of New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Atoll.

To its EU partners, France presents the Pacific dependencies as a gateway for European engagement with the region. In turn, Paris tells the Forum that its Pacific dependencies provide an opening into Europe. In an interview with Islands Business at the Apia Forum, French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch said: “Many countries see New Caledonia and French Polynesia as a pathway to France and to Europe, for Europe is present here in the Pacific.”

However, it is not clear how the membership of French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the EU’s OCT network provides a mechanism for independent island nations to engage with Europe. Why should sovereign states channel their bilateral and multilateral relations with EU member countries through the EU OCT Group, alongside the confetti of empire like Pitcairn, St Helena and the Falklands/Malvinas?

5) Following the lead from Paris?
France continues to control key legal and political powers over its Pacific dependencies, including security, military affairs and key aspects of foreign relations (such as the right to sign treaties like the Paris Agreement on Climate Change). For this reason, the full membership of New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Forum amplifies the capacity of the French Republic to intervene in current debates about EU relations.

When it comes to the crunch, will local governments in Noumea, Papeete and Mata Utu back their island neighbours in the looming deal with the EU? Or will France demand that its three Pacific dependencies fall into line with French policies within the EU?

Already, French strategic interests are coming to the fore in the Blue Pacific agenda. Just look at the ongoing battle between France and Vanuatu over control of Matthew and Hunter Islands, or the recent court ruling in Paris that rare earths found in French Polynesia’s EEZ are “strategic metals” and therefore come under the control of Paris, not Papeete.

6) Control over resources
In 2014, France’s then Overseas Minister George Pau-Langevin stressed the importance of French control of the vast Pacific EEZ in the 21st Century: “As well as traditional economic activities (fisheries and aquaculture, maritime transport), other activities can take place in the same domain: renewable offshore energy, offshore exploration for hydrocarbons, deep water sea bed mineral resources, blue biotechnologies and more.”

However as a colonial power, France’s control of marine resources breaches long-standing decolonisation resolutions of the United Nations, which affirm that “any administering power that deprives the colonial people of Non Self-Governing Territories of the exercise of their legitimate rights over their natural resources... violates the solemn obligations it has assumed under the Charter of the United Nations.”

The EU has been a key mechanism for France and the United Kingdom to advance their regional influence. In a post-Cotonou world, EU member states are looking to extend their own strategic interests in the oceans, focussing on fisheries, bio-prospecting and deep-sea mining, through major funding for Pacific regional organisations. For example, the EU has funded the SPC program to develop model legislation for Pacific countries to
govern deep sea mining.

In 2017, Sweden co-hosted the first global summit on the Oceans alongside Fiji. Now Sweden has contributed €10 million (US$11.2 million) to the €45 million (US$50.5 million) Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) program, with the EU contributing the remaining €35 million (US$39 million) for SPC, FFA, USP and SPREP. This four-year initiative focuses on areas such as the reduction of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) fishing and “trade-related negotiations to remove fisheries subsidies.”

7) Involving civil society
The Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) required wide participation of both states and non-state actors (NSAs). In the Pacific, this meant a diverse range of actors such as customary chiefs, local councils, media, trade unions, local community groups and the private sector.

With the rush to complete a post-Cotonou agreement, will this diverse range of actors be properly consulted by Forum island governments? Will there be wellresourced and timely national consultations to guide negotiators, or will the final text be completed behind closed doors at regional level?

Sopoaga is saved by the bell

  • Aug 22, 2019
  • Published in June

A mere technicality in parliamentary rules saved the government of Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, from facing a confidence motion last month.

News of the motion of no confidence against the Sopoaga Government broke the same day he hosted visiting United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in the capital Funafuti.

A non-government backbencher, Isaia Taape had filed the motion days before Guterres arrived on the island nation, as an attempt to block changes he claimed Sopoaga had made to a bill on amendments to the island’s constitution. read more buy your personal copy at

More notches in the belt

  • Aug 22, 2019
  • Published in June
China’s BRI gains momentum

PACIFIC leaders are embracing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with renewed enthusiasm following China’s hosting of the second BRI Forum in April.

5000 participants from over 150 countries and 90 international organisations attended the Forum according to Chinese authorities. It was a rich ground for the classic “grip and grin,” producing a succession of photos of beaming national leaders, including (now former) Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, standing before a sea of red flags, firmly clasping the hand of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Beyond its public relations value, the Forum also produced a 283-item list of deliverables; initiatives either proposed or launched by China, agreements signed during or immediately before the forum, multilateral cooperation
mechanisms under the BRI framework, investment projects and project lists, and financing initiatives. read more buy your personal copy at

AFTER more than 310 nuclear detonations across the region, the era of nuclear testing in the Pacific ended in 1996. Since then, the nuclear issue has dropped off the agenda for many people, with attention re-focussed on climate change and other environmental hazards.

Across the region, however, a band of activists has continued to campaign for environmental remediation at the nuclear test sites. They’ve also sought medical assistance and compensation for the civilian and military personnel who suffered adverse health effects from their work at the sites, during the 50 years of Cold War nuclear testing.

In recent years, this band of campaigners has shrunk, as age and ill-health has caught up with the generation who led a defining regional movement of the 20th century – the movement for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific.

After a long struggle with cancer, Roland Oldham died in Tahiti on 16 March, aged 68. Oldham was President of Moruroa e Tatou, the association of former Maohi workers from the Moruroa and Fangataufa nuclear test sites. The death of one of French Polynesia’s leading anti-nuclear campaigners is just one of many in recent years – in Marshall Islands, French Polynesia and Australia. These campaigners, however, have inspired younger people born after the end of testing. The torch has been passed to a new generation, who have recognised that the radioactive legacies of nuclear testing with be with us for many years to come.

Moruroa e Tatou
Tanemaruata Michel Arakino was born on Reao, an island not far from Moruroa Atoll. For 17 years, Arakino worked with the French military unit responsible for collecting biological samples at the nuclear test site, to determine the spread of radioactive particles. Working as a scuba diver, he plunged into the lagoon at Moruroa Atoll to collect samples of water, seaweed and sediments, just hours after underground nuclear tests had been detonated deep in the atoll.
Arakino reported: “In my job, I was regularly in the so-called ‘hot spots’ to gather samples from the ground and the sea for biological testing on Moruroa and Fangataufa Atolls. It is likely that while diving to gather plankton above ground zero, I swallowed or breathed in radioactive particles. In no case did my senior officers inform me of the risks I might incur.” Arakino’s story is just one example of the dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs allocated to Pacific islanders in support of the nuclear testing programs. Thousands of Maohi workers staffed the test sites at Moruroa and Fangataufa during thirty years of French nuclear testing. Five years after the last test, the association Moruroa e Tatou (Moruroa and Us) took up their cause. Roland Oldham co-founded the association in July 2001 with John Taroanui Doom and Bruno Barrillot. They spent years challenging successive French governments and local Tahitian leaders who refused to address the health and environmental consequences of nuclear testing.

Roland was a driving force in the campaign for reparations for the Maohi workers who suffered adverse health effects, finally leading to the passage of France’s Morin compensation law in 2009. Trade unionist, political campaigner, blues guitarist with the band Atomic Blues – he was a man of many parts and a true Pacific warrior. In a final interview, he stated simply: “In spite of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, I’ve tried to learn from
them. I think that in all I’ve done, I’ve tried to bring a bit of happiness to others.”
Roland’s death follows the loss of his key collaborators. On Christmas Day 2016, the death of John Taroanui Doom meant the Pacific lost a leading scholar, religious leader and anti-nuclear advocate. John witnessed the first French atmospheric test at Moruroa in July 1966. That moment led to a lifetime’s support for nuclear survivors, through Moruroa e Tatou and ecumenical work through the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) and
World Council of Churches (WCC). The death of Bruno Barrillot in March 2017 robbed the association of another key supporter – Bruno wrote numerous books documenting the environmental damage of French nuclear testing and the impact on the health of the Maohi people of French Polynesia.
Throughout the era of nuclear testing, French officials argued that there was no danger arising from France’s 193 nuclear tests. At the time, these claims were backed by French Polynesia’s longserving President Gaston Flosse and key ministers like Edouard Fritch – the French territory’s current leader. But Tahitian anti-nuclear campaigners have been vindicated in their concerns. In a stunning statement to the French Polynesian Assembly last November, President Fritch admitted that successive governments led by Gaston Flosse had lied about the health and environmental effects of nuclear testing: “For 30 years we lied to this people that these tests were clean. It was us who lied and I was a member of this gang! And for what reason did we lie? Because our own leader had seen a bomb explode.”

Roll call of champions
For fifty years between 1946 and 1996, there were more than 310 nuclear tests. The roll call of nuclear sacrifice zones across the region is long: Bikini, Enewetak, Johnston, Monte Bello, Maralinga, Emu Field, Malden Island, Christmas (Kiritimati) Island, Moruroa and Fangataufa.
The roll call of anti-nuclear champions is also spread across the region. Artists and teachers like the late Teresia Teaiwa and Epeli Hau’ofa have highlighted the way that collective regional identity as Pacific islanders was reinforced and reaffirmed through struggles against nuclear testing, the dumping of nuclear waste and other threats to the ocean environment.
Last year saw the death of Aboriginal elder Yami Lester, blinded by the Totem 1 British nuclear test in 1953. For decades, Lester campaigned for the rights of indigenous people affected by the UK nuclear tests conducted on Aboriginal land in South Australia. Lester was a key witness before the 1985 McClelland Royal Commission into the tests.
While some Aboriginal people lived in contaminated zones for up to six years after the end of testing, others had been relocated to coastal towns away from their traditional lands. The Royal Commission recognised that the denial of access to land for displaced people “contributed to their emotional, social and material distress and deprivation.” Many Marshall Islanders were also exiled from their contaminated homelands. After the 1954 Bravo test, Lemeyo Abon was one of the children contaminated by radioactivity, rubbing fallout into her hair like shampoo. Later relocated from Rongelap atoll, she began a decades-long odyssey which has left many Rongelapese still living in exile. Sadly, Mrs Abon died in February 2018, depriving the world of one of the few remaining witnesses from the Bravo test.

Successive RMI leaders have called for further compensation from the United States, but the Marshall Islands has also lost its outspoken champions. The death of Ambassador Tony de Brum in August 2017, a prophet on disarmament, climate change and Micronesian sovereignty, has been followed by that of Bill Graham, who died on 1 March 2018, the 64th anniversary of the Bravo hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll (spreading contamination across the nation, Bravo was the United States’ largest ever nuclear detonation). Graham served as public advocate for the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal, and was a key architect of the new Republic of Marshall Islands Nuclear Commission.

Young people step up
In the 1970s, students from the University of the South Pacific (USP) played a key role in initiating the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement. Today, the Marshall Islands Students Association (MISA) at USP has taken up the challenge of educating a new generation of Pacific students about the residual radioactivity on contaminated atolls in the Pacific. For those willing to return to their home islands, this pollution restricts the use of local food sources, due to the concentration of radioisotopes in the food chain. Inspired by the Pacific Climate Warriors, young people around the region are campaigning on climate change. But there is a strong connection between sea level rise and nuclear contamination, because all the nuclear powers dumped radioactive material and contaminated soil into the ocean or shallow burial sites. As they dismantled their nuclear test site in 1996, the French military dumped more than 2,600 tonnes of nuclear-contaminated material into the waters off Moruroa and Hao atolls. In Australia, parts of the desert around Maralinga are still fenced because of
plutonium contamination.
In the Marshall Islands, Runit Island in Enewetak Atoll hosts a massive concrete dome which covers tons of nuclear contaminated waste. The radioactive legacy of US nuclear tests on Enewetak was buried under concrete in the mid-1970s, in a giant crater created by a nuclear blast. Today, however, the dome is cracking, leaching contaminants into the ocean environment. In her 2018 poem ‘Anointed’, young Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil Kijiner mourns the damage to Runit: “You were a whole island once. Who remembers you beyond your death? Who would have us forget that you were once green globes of fruit, pandanus roots and whispers of canoes? Who knows the stories of the life you led before?”
Jetnil-Kijiner was one of many young activists from the Pacific who played a crucial role in lobbying for the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was adopted by the United Nations in July 2017. Long-time campaigners like Fiji’s Vanessa Griffen and Tahiti’s Roland Oldham were accompanied by younger activists, who travelled to New York to lobby governments as they negotiated the new treaty.
Karina Lester, a proud Yankunytjatjara-Anangu woman and daughter of the late Yami Lester, came to New York bearing a petition from people across Oceania. It urged governments to include provisions in the treaty to aid the survivors of nuclear testing. This lobbying led to a key section in the treaty obliging parties to assist nuclear survivors, with the preamble recognising “the disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples.”
When it is ratified, the treaty will open new avenues for assistance to nuclear survivors. For this reason, despite the deaths of its three founders, Moruroa e Tatou will continue its work. At the association’s next general meeting, the Presidency may be taken up by the former PCC general secretary, Reverend François Pihaatae. Time moves on, but the torch still burns. read more buy your personal copy at

Electing the Prime Minister

ON April 24 Manasseh Sogavare was elected as Prime Minister of Solomon Islands. However the elections sparked not only a legal challenge, but also rioting in the streets of Honiara. In this article, Solomon Islands’ Dr Transform Aqorau offers some ideas as to how the country’s electoral system and the process of electing the Prime Minister can be improved.

For the second time, Honiara residents have had to suffer the ignominy of riots following the election of the Prime Minister. Innocent businesses have been impacted, injuries have been sustained, and the country’s image has been tarnished once again by a small group of people in Honiara. After his election as Prime Minister in 2014, I had a meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on New Year’s Eve at his Office. Present at
our meeting was Derek Futaiasi, Deputy Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. I conveyed my concerns about the uncertainties of governing, the political instability and the social consequences that it was having especially on young people. I suggested that he should establish a bipartisan group from within Parliament to work with Solomon Islands academics such as Dr. Tarcisius Kabutaulaka and Dr. Gordon Nanau, and perhaps an expatriate constitutional expert, to look at a form of and structure of government that could minimise the opportunities for political instability. I said that the current system was unsustainable. I also said that it would not surprise me if one day, the youths would burn down Parliament House at Vavaya Ridge. They are less inhibited, more techno savvy and have less respect for the authority than previous generations.

A possible way forward
I propose that the we have a process to preselect candidates who wish to contest the elections. Instead of the current system where a person only needs three people to nominate them, a candidate must be pre-selected by a minimum of 1,000 duly registered voters from a constituency. This is not intended to make it difficult, but to allow serious candidates to discuss their policies and intentions and build coalitions, and whereby people can participate more effectively in the choosing of the candidates that they wish to contest the elections. This would be a more participatory, bottoms up approach towards choosing their candidates, rather than the present system whereby individuals can simply seek out three members of a community to sign their nomination papers, pay the requisite fee and run for elections. In this process, a candidate would still have to pay a fee, but he must be able to show that he is supported to contest the elections. This will not eliminate bribery and gifting but at least people can participate more fully in who they want to see contest the elections.

The first past the post system needs to be enhanced so that it is the first past the post with 51 per cent of the votes who get selected. This can be done either through having a limited preferential system of voting or run-off elections to ensure that whoever gets 51 per cent is declared the winner. It goes without saying that representation in Parliament should reflect the majority of the voters. This is not the case for most of the members of Parliament so in reality they cannot really claim to represent their people. In most cases, they only represent a very small proportion of their constituents. In the era of the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF) where people complain that MPs only support those who vote for them, this would probably ensure a greater sense of fairness in the distribution of the RCDF.

I propose that we have direct elections of the Prime Minister by the people. It will be expensive, but given the behaviour of MPs after they are elected, the holing up in hotels, the alleged involvement of logging companies, and the alienation of the people from choosing their Prime Minister, we should change the current system. I propose that after the Parliamentarians are elected, that they choose two candidates from amongst them to  contest the position of Prime Minister. They can have their own process of elimination, but then revert to the people to elect the head of the Executive arm of the Government. It will be expensive, but it would ensure greater participatory democracy by the people. The alternative could be a hybrid system that would be involve nomination by the Parliamentarians, but broaden the base to choose the head of the Executive. This could entail all the provincial government members, or may be a college of electors chosen from within the different constituencies who could be chosen during the elections. The college of electors must contain equal representation from women and men. The Prime Minister would be elected by the college of electors, all the members of the provincial governments and the members of Parliament. I suggest that the college of electors consist of 10 per constituency, that would make 100 additional representatives. It will be expensive, but it allows for greater participation of the people in the choosing of the Head of the Executive

As we all know, the current situation is not sustainable, not because of the system but there is perhaps too much greed and corruption involved. Unfortunately, these are not factors that can be regulated. Granted our members already face a lot of pressure as it is, most of which are selfinflicted by the funds that they manage. I would like to invite a general discussion on the way forward especially in ensuring that the people have a bigger say in the election of the Prime Minister. My proposals might be a bit more expensive, but at least we would not have any reason to protest and damage innocent people’s properties. Above all, it would be a more
democratic people driven system, that would be less susceptible to the vagaries of the pressures that logging companies bring to bear on the current system. I suggest that we would trial it at the provincial governments initially to test peoples understanding of the system, then roll it out to the national elections. Give it some serious thought. read more buy your personal copy at

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