May 15, 2021 Last Updated 6:06 PM, May 14, 2021

Recent years have seen a power shift, with Pacific Islands Nations gaining greater control and revenue returns from their Tuna fisheries. This has been the result of cooperation and hard work. This article will show that the Pacific Tuna fisheries are arguably the best and most sustainably managed in the world. Therefore, World Tuna Day is a day that the Pacific Nations can be especially proud of.

World Tuna Day is observed on 2nd May every year; it was officially established by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by adopting resolution 71/124, in December 2016. It aims to draw attention to the importance of conservation management and sustainable fishing.

Tuna are an essential species, and deserve such recognition. Many nations depend upon tuna as a food source. Over 96 countries have tuna fisheries, which are under ever increasing pressure.

I have been working with tuna for over 30 years, mainly in the Pacific Islands in the Western and Central Pacific region. This region is the source of over 30% of the world tuna catches.

The sustainability and economic performance of the tuna resource for the Pacific Islands is a positive story. This is noteworthy, because not many positive stories come from fisheries, despite them being a key area of food production.

For many years now, the Pacific Island nations have demonstrated leadership in coastal states' rights and responsibilities. The Pacific region has the strongest unions among coastal countries (countries responsible for the waters where the tuna is fished) that exist anywhere in the world. Exemplary institutions like the Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency ("The FFA") do not exist anywhere else.

The Forum Fisheries Agency or FFA

The FFA has been working for over 40 years and supporting its 17 members in critical areas. These areas include:

1) Compliance and surveillance; anyone with a laptop and access to through the shared Vessels Monitoring System (VMS) can quickly find out information such as: where each of the over 2,500 vessels fishing in the Eastern Pacific is, what they are doing, their licences, their compliance history, the last port of entry, their electronic reporting, and so on. The System also coordinates the 4 biggest sea and aerial surveillance operations in the world every year with the support of American, French and Australian assets to make sure all, vessels in the area are authorised. The system appears to be working as no illegal vessels have been found in the past 5 years. There is solid register of vessels, FFA Regional Register of Fishing Vessels in good standing, (for those that are in compliance with the Harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions for Access by Fishing Vessels - HMTCs).

2) Policy and management; The Pacific has been very supportive in terms of reference points, effort controls, fish aggregating device management and so on. The recent incorporation of standardized port State measures through the WCPFC Conservation and Management Measure and FFA port State measures regional framework is further example of this vision, and one I've been working substantially on.The 17 countries share Harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions for Access by Fishing Vessels (HMTCs) for these wishing to fish in their waters, these conditions go from the size of the identification markings on the vessels, via the fishing gear specification, the by catch conditions and so on.

The HMTCs regulate who, how, when and where vessels can fish. And remarkably, this includes fishers' labour rights as they include a minimum set of requirements based on ILO's Working in Fishing Convention (C188) as part of the requirements for the vessels to be allowed to fish in coastal State waters. This is momentous because from 1 January 2020, if a vessel does not uphold those labour rights and conditions as part of their licensing, then their right to fish can be removed and the vessels would not be in good standing. This is the first time in the world that there is a direct link between labour standards and the right to fish being substantiated by a coalition of coastal States!

To add the these harmonised conditions a subgroup of FFA members, the PNA countries, have created their own supplementary conditions for purse seiners and recently longliners that include among others the Vessel Day Scheme; an effort management measure where vessels pay for every day they gear is in the water, even if nothing is being caught, 100% observers coverage on Purse Seiners, a state of the art information management system, prohibition to tranship outside ports, and so on… these are some of the most exigent fisheries access conditions in the world.

3) Fisheries development; The average value of the annual catch in FFA waters between 2016 and 2018 was US$2.9 billion, 51% of the average value of WPCO annual catch of US$5.7 billion. The purse seine fishery contributed on average (2016-2018) just above 80% (US$2.4 billion) of the total average (2016- 2018) catch value in the FFA EEZ. The average (2016-2018) value of the skipjack catch was 60% of the total value of the harvest; yellowfin, bigeye and albacore contributed 29%, 8% and 4% respectively.

Foreign fleets which once dominated the harvest sector in FFA EEZs, have seen their share of the value of the catch decline significantly in recent years. In 2010 the share of the value of the catch taken in FFA member's water by their national fleets (that is, vessels flagged by or chartered to them) was 29% while in 2018 this share had increased to 48%.

The value of access fees paid by foreign vessels to FFA members continues to increase over recent years, rising from around US$114 million in 2009 to US$554 million in 2018. These license and access fee revenue make an important contribution to FFA member's government finances, representing 25% or more of government revenue (excluding grants) for six FFA members and as high as 85%.

Revenue from the purse seine fleet increased rapidly up to 2015 increasing by an average 27% per annum between 2011 and 2015. Growth then slowed increasing by just 2% in 2016 and 4% in 2017 before rising 12% in 2018. This growth has been driven by the increase in the value of days under the PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) purse seine effort-based Vessel Day Scheme (VDS).

Prior to 2011, the value of the day was generally less than US$2000 but this increased rapidly following the introduction of a benchmark price that set an agreed minimum price.

This benchmark price was set at US$5000 in 2011, increased to US$6000 in 2014 and again increased to $8000 in 2015 where it currently stands. VDS days in 2018 sold in a range between US$9,000 and US$14,000/day.

Total employment related to tuna fisheries in FFA member countries for 2018 is estimated at around 22,350, an increase of 3% of the previous year. Since 2010, there has been consistent growth in employment numbers. The onshore processing sector makes the largest contribution to employment with about 65% of total employment related to tuna fisheries coming from this sector. Total employment in the onshore processing sector in 2018 was estimated at 14,497, an increase of 7% from the previous year. The harvest, observers and the public sector contribute around 25%, 4% and 7% of total employment respectively. The majority of those employed in the processing sector are employed in PNG, which accounts for about 60% of all processing works. Around 16% of processing employment is in the Solomon Islands, 15% in Fiji and 3% in the Marshall Islands. Among processing workers an estimated 10,800, or 75%, are women while an estimated 3,600 are male. Significant growth in employment was also observed in the public sector with numbers increasing to around 1,568, more than 60% higher than 5 years ago.

And all this has been achieved while maintaining the stock at sustainable levels as evaluated by the arguably the best tuna and stock assessments scientists in the world, such as those based in the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community headquarters in New Caledonia. This has been confirmed by peer review process. All four main WCPO tuna stocks (albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin) are deemed to be "biologically healthy" in that they are not overfished nor is overfishing occurring.

Fish Stocks

And this is not to say that is all perfect… the region seen a changed perception of the stock provided by the 2019 assessment, discussions on the appropriate TRP (target reference point) value for skipjack tuna continue. The albacore stock is projected to decline further below its target reference point of 56% of unfished biomass if recent high catch levels continue into the future.

Significant concerns remain with regard to low catch rates in longline fisheries targeting albacore and the economic returns these fisheries generate.

Therefore as 17 country blocks with sufficient muscle to operate at international level we push for stronger conservation and management measures at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the management body that brings together the coastal states and the Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN).

Substantial challenges remain for example the impact of climate change, increasing fishing effort and transhipment and labour issues in the HS - where the flag states have sole responsibility, and the impact of "fishing effort creep" through new technologies like Fish Aggregation Devices. Such devices have automatised echo sounders which able to transmit via satellite not only the positions but also the volumes and species composition of fish below.

Yet we have some of the best people in the world dealing with these issues.

For example the FFA countries were in 2016 the 1st region to identify under and misreporting as the main elements of IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing) fishing in our region. Those practices cost coastal countries an estimated US$160 million. The 2021 update of this work is presently being done and is showing promising results.

Tuna is fundamental for the Pacific region. Pacific nations manage their tuna fisheries sustainably because they are capable and understand better than anyone else, the implications of a failure.

This is an issue of overarching importance since competing interests are impacting tuna sustainability. There is a fundamental (and perhaps unbridgeable) difference; as clearly expressed to me, by my Nauruan friend and colleague Monte Depaune:

"For non-Pacific Islands and Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN) the issue of tuna sustainability is one of long-term financial benefit. However, for coastal States PICs it is also an identity and food security issue, one that DWFNs have less trouble with, as they can leave… but PICs (Pacific Island Coastal States) cannot."

Pacific leaders have always understood that unity and collaboration are the best response to the divide and conquer strategies they sometimes face. Whilst there is little they can do in terms of managing the High Seas, they are themselves Large Oceanic Nations instead of Small Island States, and in their waters they have the last word.

In the fisheries world the power is shifting is moving from the ones with the boats to the ones with the fish, even if the former richer and more influential. Without the strong cooperation and cultural linkages among Pacific Islands coastal States it is doubtful there would be a healthy tuna fishery such as the one they now have. I'm incredibly proud to be a small part of the massive team that has achieved that.

Francisco Blaha has been living in the Pacific for over half his life. He has been involved in the fisheries sector since he was teenager, starting as a deckhand he worked his way through the field of fisheries to his present position as a specialist adviser for a dozen international organisations and governments in more than 50 countries.

Last month the Suva Magistrates Court found the developers of a resort site on Fiji’s Malolo Islands guilty of undertaking development without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment Report. That development included destroying part of the reef and dumping waste in order to build a resort and casino.  Sentencing is scheduled for May 25. But the case has reminded Timoci Tuiqali of his experiences on Nanuya Sewa.

Opinion: Environmental Protection and Government’s Failures.

The Fiji government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been exemplary. The speed at which the curve was flattened, the lockdowns, the public awareness campaigns, the robust contact tracing was similar to the efforts of developed nations such as New Zealand and South Korea. So has the government’s textbook response to the measles epidemic, and Cyclone Harold relief efforts. It shows that the government has the muscle and the skill set to deal with any global crisis and pandemic. However, when it comes to standing up for Fijian land and the environment, the government has chosen to turn a blind eye. Despite our Prime Minister’s presidency of COP23, despite the awards given to him for being a climate champion, and being the leading global voice to save the planet; from where I stand, on the desecrated womb of the island of Nanuya Sewa, this government is all talk. So much hot air to broadcast to the world the pretense of being world leaders in environmental protection and conservation, yet when environmental abuse occurs, the government turns a blind eye, the act conveniently brushed under the carpet.

Nanuya Island Resort sits on the northern tip of Nanuya Sewa, an island, located in the centre of the Yasawa group of islands. A guest on the beach cabana looking north, would see my home island of Nacula, a 15 minute boat ride away.  To the west, the same distance away as Nacula, Iie the islands of Tavewa and Matacawalevu. Below Nanuya Sewa is Nanuya Levu (Turtle Island) linked by a sand spit you can walk across at low tide, reminiscent of an umbilical cord that was never severed at birth. These four islands protect the western beach of Nanuya Sewa from the might of the Pacific Ocean, creating the Blue Lagoon which is now famous the world over.

I was appointed resort manager at Nanuya Island Resort in July 2017. When I started, the resort had been operating for 14 years, with some of the staff having been there from its inception. In my induction speech, I told the employees that although I may be the newest addition to the staff, my history and my connection to the Island goes further than any of them, resort and owners included.

My family’s link to this strip of sand stretches back more than 80 years. Tai Saimone, the head of my Qelema clan had a copra business on the island. Part of my dad and his siblings’ childhood was spent growing up on the island. Tai Saimone was as strong as he was methodical. He had his way of doing things, and the consequences of not adhering to them were severe. Dad remembers a time when Tai Saimone asked the boys to prep his copra schooner the “Adi Betty” for sailing, and upon checking on them later, found all 12 brothers and cousins swimming and frolicking in the sun. That set his fuse off, and before they knew it he was bolting towards them, stick in hand, fuming. As dad would recall; “You ran for your life and hid until he calmed down. “Being a fast runner was very important. The aim was not to be the last one,” he said. It was pretty similar to the 200m finals at Fiji’s famous Coca Cola Games. Only this time the red rubber tracks of the National Stadium was replaced with the white 500 metre long blue lagoon beach. This was home. This was where they grew up.

Nanuya Sewa knows she’s beautiful. She’s seen the faces of visitors light up at her beauty, she feels their adrenaline rush as they stand mesmerised, seeing for the first time the upper echelon of nature’s magnificence. She’s seen it all in the last 60 years, ever since tourist yachts and cruise ships have laid anchor in her infamous bay. She is happy and gentle, contented in her good fortunes. And you feel that from her as you walk her shores.

The Resort Manager’s apartment is above the main complex. I had a morning routine that I followed religiously. I get up at 6am, I go downstairs, open up the office, the storerooms, the kitchen, and then I take my morning walk. I walk the entire length of blue lagoon beach. I don’t wear shoes, as it disconnects me. I walk barefoot so that the island’s mana recognises me. This walk sets me up for the day, come what may.

Walking along this magnificent beach as the world sleeps, is like walking in a prayer.  The soft sand under my feet, the soothing sound of the waves lapping.  As the sun rises and crawls up the hill at Nanuya, as it slowly wakes Matacawalevu laying sleepily across the waters to the west, bringing her through from the black silhouette of the night, to a darker shade of green with the early dawn lights. And then the entire island is lit bright green as the sun’s rays finally hits it. As Tom, our resident seagull takes his first flight to stretch his wings, you see the smoke from the kitchens across the waters as the ladies start their breakfast preparation. In this saturation of nature’s beauty, my heart is full.

In this instant when my cup overflows, my soul is thankful to God for allowing me this moment. My core is awakened. All my senses come alive, as I look back to see the footsteps of my forefathers on this same beach. I see my own personal journey, difficult though it was, all the way up to this moment, and I can see glimmers of the road ahead, and the footsteps of the generation to come. Before I know it, I am smiling.  I look up at the rain trees and they’re smiling too, swaying their branches in approval. These trees that have seen it all. Seen Tai Saimone from years gone by, loading his copra boat with his sons. They would have seen those young boys dash for their lives, their father in tow. These trees would have seen four of those young sprinters, grow up to eventually don the whites of the Captain’s uniforms of the Blue Lagoon Cruises fleet, entertaining their guests under these same coconut trees. And here I was, the next generation, taking my morning walk as Resort Manager at Nanuya Island Resort.  I look up and I can hear the trees sounding off the approval in this next chapter of Qelema on Nanuya Sewa.  

Once a month, the parish priest from Vuaki comes to say Mass at Nanuya Sewa.  The service is held at the chapel of Saint James in Enedala village, the only village on the island, located on the opposite side. The entire village is Catholic, so this monthly visit is a big event, bringing everyone together. After Mass, everyone gets together by the beach for lunch, then there is the obligatory kava session, tea and pastries later in the afternoon. I will always cherish these memories of the church service, the feasting and the bond of a close knit community. It was at one of these services, that Fr. Etuweni introduced Pope Francis’s encyclical, the Laudato Si. Published in 2015, this pontifical document calls for the care of Mother Earth. In it, he warns of advancing consumerism, exploitation, and the destruction of the environment in the pursuit of profits. He calls for an end to political short sightedness, and our collective effort to save the planet.  To get this papal message across to the villagers in Enedala, Father Etuweni said in his homily, “O keda na tamata eda I tini ni nona veibuli na Kalou” -In the story of creation, God created man last. “Na qele, na waitui, na kau vuata, na ka kece e dela ni vuravura oqo era qase vei keda. Sa yaga vei keda na i tini ni nona veibuli, meda maroroya, ka da rokovi ira na qase mai vei keda” -God created the earth, the waters, the trees and the environment first. It is our duty, as the youngest of God’s creation to respect and protect those that are older than us.

This homily confirmed for me what I have always believed; that we can see the hand of God in everything. And that the joy and the peace I draw from the island is from God. It doesn’t matter how dreadful my day at the office has been, whether I’ve had to deal with difficult guest,  if I’ve had to terminate a staff member, or if I’ve clashed with the resort owner, the island is able to lift me from the depths of my misery and raise me to heaven. All I need to do is walk. 15 minutes is all it takes, and my spirit is at peace.

So imagine my horror on Wednesday January 9th 2019, whilst returning to the resort after the afternoon off with friends, I find the resort owner, Mr. Ivan Parker on his excavator digging a pit outside the resort boundary. My heart sank, as I knew straight away what was going down. Two weeks prior, we were having an issue with a foul smell permeating the resort. The resort had been fully booked over the Christmas period, and the engineers had said that the sewage system was unable to process all the sewage. The sewage system had been built when the resort was much smaller. Mr. Harvey Sofield, the independent waste management consultant we engaged, clearly outlined in his report to management that a bailout was needed ASAP. A bailout involved getting in a sewage truck to the island to siphon raw sewage in the chamber down to a  level where the bacteria is again able to function and break down the sewage to safe levels, before It is then pumped into the secondary filter. He said in his report that the STP (Sewage Treatment Plan) was so heavily saturated with solids that it was acting more like an overloaded industrial septic tank. What I was now witnessing was Mr. Parker’s total disregard of this report and the bypassing both the primary and the secondary filters and dumping of raw septic waste straight into native reserve. I had been out drinking with friends, and instinct told me that if I confronted him now, one of us would get hurt.

My cousin, Jovesa Ratu (Jobbie), had only two weeks earlier confronted him on cutting down trees outside the resort boundary, and had to be pulled off by one of the staff as Parker was on his excavator. These machines are an extension of him. I would trust Parker to off load an atomic bomb off the back of a truck drunk. He made his millions as a trucker and brick maker in Australia. He sold his Australian business, bought Nanuya Island Resort and moved to Fiji to retire. He is a hard worker and finds it difficult to slow down, always finding any opportunity to keep himself busy. His character and work ethic has been shaped from working his entire life on trucks and on bricks, and this is at times, at odds with the values of Fijian hospitality. This was generally our main point of contention.

That night I knew that a direct confrontation was dangerous. My only option was to threaten the maintenance crew who were helping him. My effort was to naught, as no one had the courage to cross him. Everyone was worried about keeping their jobs. I told the General Manager that this was unacceptable, but he chose to side with the owner. I returned to the beach, sat down with my head hung in shame, my heart shattered into a million pieces, as I tried to process this madness. My entire being screamed for a reaction, but as manager, my hands were tied. It felt as if someone had punched me in the guts, leaving me struggling for air. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next morning, I told the GM that I couldn’t work, and walked across to Enedala to get away from all of this. I came back to the resort a day later and they were still pumping sewage. In the ensuing dispute, I put my ultimatum, that if this issue was not corrected, I would resign and report the matter to the Department of Environment. Mr. Parker did not back down.

I lodged the complaint with the department of environment in Lautoka in February 2019. I had two meetings with Senivasa Waqairamasi, the Senior Environments Officer. I provided all the documentation she requested, and she did nothing. I sent her an e-mail in March asking for an update. Again, no response from Ms. Waqairamasi.  I waited for a month, and in April I requested again for an update on the case. Still no acknowledgement from the boss of the Environment department in Lautoka, whose jurisdiction covered the Mamanucas and the Yasawa group, an area saturated with hotels. And here I was thinking that this government has done so much to lift the service delivery of the civil service. On the 13th of July, I contacted MP Lenora Qereqeretabua to assist me get through the blank wall at the department. Lenora promptly raised the matter directly with Joshua Wycliffe, the director of environment. He finally responded on the matter saying the department had advised Nanuya Island Resort to stop any further dumping of sewage, and asked them via e-mail if they could be so kind as to rehabilitate the area encompassing the sewage dump.

So that was the government’s response to the violent rape and desecration of this virgin eco-system. A slight tap on the wrist with instructions not to re-offend. Yet when a struggling father up in the highlands of Navosa is caught planting a few marijuana plants to try and feed his children, the same authority throw him into jail for seven years as a first offender, ruining his life, and  destroying any chance of his kids making it.

When Chinese developers illegally blow up an entire coral reef on the island Malolo so that they can get their resort building material right up to the beach, the authorities deploy unprecedented delay tactics, the case drags on and at one stage, moves are made to ban the media from the courtroom. Yet, petty robbery suspects are consistently beaten up by the police, boiling water thrown on some with many requiring hospitalisation and some resulting in death. Where is the justice? Where is the consistency?

There is a pattern here. This government’s muscle flexing is aimed mainly at ordinary citizens, with harsh sentencing and little consideration given to first-time offenders. Yet when corporates commit crimes costing the Indigenous population millions of dollars in damages to the environment, and irreversible destruction to bio diversity, this government conveniently turns a blind eye.

I wrote back to the Director of Environment to register my disgust at their leniency, and again outlined the crimes committed by Nanuya Island Resort. Firstly, there was no waste disposal permit. Secondly, it is altogether illegal to dump untreated sewage, and thirdly, the dump was done outside the lease boundary. Parker pumped sewage out of the resort lease boundary and into Native land. And the place he chose to dump was about 20 metres away from the beach. This sewage will eventually filter out into this pristine blue lagoon and do irreparable damage.  I am still waiting for Mr. Joshua Wycliffe to get back to me.

Tourism is the largest contributor into government coffers, and the government has been focused solely on what they can get out of the industry. Very little thought has been given to long term sustainability and diversification. They try to extract from the islands every dollar without regard to the damage done. With the advent of COVID-19, and the subsequent shutdown of the world economy, the earth for once has been allowed to breathe. Mother Earth has been allowed to heal the wounds that the greed of men has inflicted. It is time the Bainimarama government takes stock. To reflect on their twelve year journey at the helm of the nation, proclaiming publicly to make Fiji the next Singapore by ruthlessly pursuing economic growth with the political shortsightedness referred to by Pope Francis in the Laudato Si. This formula will never work for Fiji.  

This nation’s riches are a gift to us from the earth, and ultimately from God. We must look after the environment that is responsible for keeping this nation afloat. You will eventually reap what you sow, which is why we are where we are. Which is probably at the same place where we were 12 years ago. Now that this government has been humbled by this global pandemic, it is my hope that when this huge tourism wheel starts spinning again, the government gives the environment the respect due, that crimes committed against the environment are dealt with fairly and equitably.

I haven’t gone back to Nanuya since the incident. Not even to visit my relatives in Enedala village. I can’t face the island. I still carry with me the shame of what happened. I am ashamed to set foot on Nanuya Sewa, for she would recognise me as the person best placed to defend her and yet I failed. We have all failed her. The villagers have failed her, the landowners have failed her, the nation and this government have failed her. She is healing right now. I know she is recovering. Bewildered perhaps and aggrieved that a species she loved, nourished, and comforted in her bosom is capable of inflicting such senseless pain. I am reminded of the words of the French-Canadian thinker and astrophysicist Hubert Reeves who said “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature. Unaware that this nature he’s destroying is the God he’s worshipping.”      

Islands Business sought a response from Nanuya Island Resort.

As with all opinion pieces, the views expressed here are not necessarily the views of this magazine.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited Australia, along with India and South Korea, to attend this year’s prestigious Group of Seven Leaders’ Summit in June. This is a rare opportunity for Australia to contribute to policy discussions with the largest advanced economies in the world (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan). So what will Australia bring to the G7 table?

Australia would be expected to be a prominent contributor to G7 talks on China, especially in regard to trade flows, disputes and China’s increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific. Australia’s management of COVID-19 – both in health and economic terms – is generally well regarded internationally, so Australia would also be expected to share views on the roadmap for recovery, and specifically how advanced economies can transition from a period of heavy stimulus to private sector-led growth.

But I would like to see Australia bring something different – and perhaps unexpected – to the G7 table: a focus not on advanced economies but on those developing and least developed economies that are least able to absorb the economic shocks from COVID-19.

Developing countries are expected to lose more than US$220 billion in income because of COVID-19. This is especially devastating for the one in two people worldwide who have no access to welfare or social protection.

The World Bank projects that the knock-on effects of COVID-19 will plunge 150 million into extreme poverty by the end of 2021 – increasing global poverty for the first time in 22 years. According to the World Investment Report, foreign direct investment to developing economies was estimated to have declined by 15-45% in 2020.

It is a similar story for remittance flows. The World Bank predicts that remittances, a lifeline for many living in extreme poverty, will shrink by 14% in 2021. In Australia’s immediate region – the Pacific – the Lowy Institute forecasts that average incomes will not recover until 2028, warning of a ‘Pacific lost decade’.

The G7 is primarily an economic grouping, not a development one, so why should G7 governments care about supporting the poorest through this crisis? Because it is smart economics, and the right thing to do.

The global economy cannot recover if developing economies are left behind. One study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that a failure to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to developing countries will lead to substantial losses for advanced economies.

In the most likely scenario, where people in advanced economies are fully vaccinated this year and only half of those in developing countries are vaccinated, the global economy would suffer losses of between US$1.8 trillion and US$3.8 trillion. More than half of these costs would be borne by advanced economies due to the interconnectedness of trade.

In a worst-case scenario where vaccines do not reach developing countries at all, the global economy would suffer losses exceeding US$9 trillion. This is more than the economies of the UK, Germany and India combined.

So, to revisit our original question, Australia should bring two issues to the G7 table.

First, Australia should advocate for vaccine equity.

Widespread distribution and take-up of the COVID-19 vaccine – in rich and poor countries alike – is a prerequisite for economic recovery. As of mid-January, high-income countries held 60% of the available vaccines despite only being home to 16% of the world’s population.

It is estimated that about 85 countries will not have widespread COVID-19 vaccine coverage until 2023. This is too little, too late. Australia can advocate for vaccine equity from a place of authenticity having contributed $80 million to the COVAX Facility, $500 million for the vaccine rollout in South-East Asia and the Pacific, and most recently diverting 1.8 million of its own vaccine doses to address the outbreak in Papua New Guinea.

Just as the Quad (an alliance comprised of Australia, India, Japan and the US) recently made commitments to expand vaccine access in the Indo-Pacific region, G7 governments should work together to scale-up global vaccine production and fund ‘last mile’ distribution across developing economies so no country is left behind.

Secondly, Australia should advocate for G7 governments to support an inclusive economic recovery, especially through development aid and debt relief.

Official Development Assistance can be a catalytic resource for economic recovery in poor nations – increasing access to finance, supporting micro, small and medium-sized businesses to rebuild, revitalising dormant markets and supporting job creation, especially for women. World Vision knows the tremendous impact of inclusive economic development first hand.

The OECD calculates that if donor governments were to maintain their 2019 ODA-GNI ratios, then total ODA could decline by US$11-14 billion due to the collapse in national incomes across the world. Some G7 governments, such as the UK, have not even maintained their ODA ratios, opting to cut aid in the face of domestic economic pressures despite a resurgence in global poverty.

Australia, on the other hand, has increased aid spending, albeit slightly, for the first time since 2013. Economic recovery is now one of three pillars of Australia’s new development policy, Partnerships for Recovery.

Building on these achievements, it would be great to see Australia secure a commitment from G7 governments to (1) at least maintain current levels of ODA and (2) to intentionally deploy ODA to support an inclusive economic recovery that reduces inequality rather than worsening it. Debt relief or cancellation is another way that G7 governments can support the recovery, enabling developing economies to invest more of their scarce financial resources in important services like health, education and economic recovery instead of servicing loans.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our economic, social and health systems are deeply interconnected, and so too is our recovery. We cannot afford to leave developing and least developing economies behind.

The G7 has played an important development role in the past: the 1996 summit helped launch the world’s signature debt relief initiative;  the 2000 summit led to the establishment of the multi-billion-dollar Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and in 2019 G7 governments committed to combatting inequality through a renewed partnership with Africa.

Australia and the G7 have an opportunity build on this track record and adopt a global perspective in this year’s summit to lead an inclusive economic recovery not only for their own nations, but for the world.

This article appeared first on Devpolicy Blog (devpolicy.org), from the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University.

Dane Moores is the Policy Manager at World Vision Australia where he oversees policy analysis and influencing on child rights, livelihoods and food security, conflict and fragility, and First Nations policy.

Chinese fishing boats’ illegal overfishing in the South Pacific has been devastating some island economies.

According to two former U.S. officials, “illegal, unregulated fishing by Chinese vessels has become common in American Samoa and Guam and as far east as Hawaii.”

American Samoa, noted for its volcanic peaks and tropical rainforests, is the southernmost territory of the United States.

At one point, a tuna cannery on American Samoa, one of the island’s largest employers, had to temporarily suspend operations due to a lack of fish.

China’s fishing fleets, which reach as far as Latin America, West Africa, and even Antarctica, have been adding to the strain on worldwide fishing stocks, according to organizations monitoring the issue.

In the past, the expansion of Chinese fishing vessels and their overseas reach has been fueled by tax breaks on imported fishing equipment purchased abroad, and by subsidies for fuel and vessel building. But it’s not clear how much of a role these factors have played in the South Pacific.

Members of a Chinese middle class who value high-quality fish in their diet are believed to be eager to acquire the tuna fish which can be found in the South Pacific.

Another much sought-after item is sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers are marine invertebrates related to sea urchins and star fish. They are used in soups and other dishes.

Sea cucumbers are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fatigue, impotence, constipation, and joint pain.

Other countries’ fishing vessels operate in the South Pacific as well.

Several years ago, the authorities in Palau burned four Vietnamese fishing boats off the island’s coast and arrested a captain. And a few years later, several Vietnamese boats were detained off the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.

The Solomon Islands are a former British territory. New Caledonia, located 750 miles east of Australia, is noted for its palm-lined beaches and lagoon, which is a major scuba-diving destination.

But tourism, a major source of income and employment in the South Pacific, has dropped off here and elsewhere in the region.

Island pushback 

In some cases local authorities have pushed back against Chinese fishing boat intrusions.

The Republic of Palau, a Pacific island nation whose close relations with Taiwan have angered China in the past, detained a Chinese fishing vessel and six smaller boats in early December last year.

According to The Guardian newspaper, Palau officials alleged that the Chinese boats had been harvesting sea cucumbers in its territorial waters.

Palau, an archipelago of about 500 islands and 18,000 people is one of Taiwan’s few remaining allies in the South Pacific. Last year, Palau asked the United States to build ports, bases, and airfields on its islands, according to a Wall Street Journal report, but it’s not clear where that offer currently stands.

Meanwhile John Braddock, reporting for the “World Socialist Web Site,” described how Vanuatu officials seized two Chinese vessels in late January of this year for illegally fishing in the southwestern Pacific island nation’s territorial waters.

But not all Chinese fishing vessels operate illegally.

Some Chinese fishing boats are legitimately operating in Vanuatu’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from a base in Fiji.

A South Pacific Tuna Treaty, an ongoing agreement between the United States and 16 Pacific Island nations, allows for purse-seine vessels to legitimately fish in the EEZs party to the treaty.

Purse-seining involves setting a large circular “wall” of net around fish, then “pursing” the bottom together to capture them.

But according to the nonprofit organization Greenpeace, purse seining is a bad idea when it also targets a by-catch of non-target species or fish that simply can’t stand the pressure on their populations.

In the worst case, some fish can be driven to extinction by simply failing to maintain a large enough population to propagate the species.

For skipjack, the smallest species and the staple of tinned tuna, purse-seining is used throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

But skipjack tuna often shoal together with younger big eye and yellow fin tuna, and these end up in the nets as well along with sharks, rays, turtles, and other species of fish.

Big eye tuna is used as sashimi, a popular dish in both Japan and South Korea.

As Greenpeace notes, given the endangered species of Oceanic turtles, sharks, and big eye tuna, as well as the appetite for sushi around the world, the losers are traditional fishing communities who have been catching these fish with a minimal impact for centuries.

Timber harvests also problematic

In addition to the damage to local livelihoods caused by Chinese and other fishing boats, it should be mentioned that another tragic development has been the destruction of tropical forests in the South Pacific. Most of this has been carried out by companies shipping timber to China.

As of 2018, China had become the world’s largest timber importer followed by the United States, the European Union, and Japan.

Meanwhile, two former high-ranking U.S. officials have argued that U.S. territories and possessions in the Pacific find themselves “on the front lines of Beijing’s malign influence, economic predation, and military ambitions.”

Writing for the web site “RealClearDefense” on March 11 of this year, Alexander B. Gray and Douglas W. Domenech allege that “not since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, has a foreign power such as China posed such a direct military threat in close proximity to the U.S. mainland.”

But the two allege that “Washington policymakers have thus far barely recognized the growing threat to vital American interests on our own territory or in adjacent waters.

Gray is a senior fellow in national security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Institute who served on the National Security Council from 2018 to 2021.

Domenech served as assistant security for insular and international affairs at the U.S Department of the Interior from 2017 to 2021

Opinion: From COVID-19 containment to suppression in the Western Pacific Region: 2020 Lessons for 2021

Compared to other parts of the world, the Western Pacific Region has been comparatively fortunate. Although the Region’s 37 countries and areas are home to more than a quarter of the world’s population, they have reported just 1% of globally confirmed cases to date. Most countries have avoided the so-called “red line”, or the point where critical care needs surpass health care capacity, large numbers of health care workers are infected, service quality declines, and deaths rapidly increase.

Of course, 2020 was a very difficult year – in particular, for healthcare workers, and for those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods. My thoughts are with the families of these people every day, and with the healthcare workers who have been working so hard over the past year. We all need to remain vigilant, in order to keep case numbers down, and health systems operating, and as far as possible, transmission of the virus in check.

As we embark on a new year, there are still many unknowns about COVID-19. However, it is still useful to reflect on some of the lessons that can be learned from our experiences and what we can take forward into 2021.

There are several reasons why the Western Pacific Region has fared relatively well, and important lessons that can be learned from countries in our Region's experience. Clearly, long term investment is critical. Countries in the Region have spent more than a decade preparing for events with pandemic potential, by strengthening their health systems in anticipation of an event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies, or APSED, now in its third iteration, countries developed their response plans – and, crucially, the capacities and systems to implement them. Under this shared strategy, systems were set up – such as for contact tracing – which have proven to be critical in the COVID-19 response.

Countries that have successfully controlled COVID-19 had a very strong public health plan to manage positive cases. Most countries were able to scale up the right mix of public health interventions at the right time, to avoid health systems being totally overwhelmed.

China showed us early on that this virus could be suppressed, with strong public health interventions. Australia and New Zealand’s experience has reinforced this. We also saw in places such as the Republic of Korea, the importance of quickly scaling up testing – and linking this to the public health response.

In the Pacific, where there are some of the few remaining countries in the world yet to record a single case of COVID-19, countries and areas continue to prepare their health systems. Strong public health measures, proactive communications with their public, combined with border closures and stringent border quarantine measures, have slowed or stopped the spread of COVID-19. Fiji and New Caledonia, for example, which reported cases of COVID-19 in the community earlier in 2020, have now gone more than 240 days without reporting a case of COVID-19 outside of border quarantine.

From Japan, we learned the benefits of using a cluster-based approach. And of course, Japan also taught us about the renowned three C’s. I understand that now, even small children in Japan know about the three Cs: avoiding closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.

There are many other important factors: for instance, good systems for multi-source surveillance have been crucial – to enable countries to monitor trends, assess risks, and adapt response strategies accordingly.

Communication from trusted sources including governments, healthcare workers and scientists has also been so important – for establishing and sustaining social norms around protective behaviours, and building community support for public health measures. We have been observing very effective communication in many countries including Viet Nam, Singapore and New Zealand. I have been impressed so many times with the communication of those countries. I have also observed in many countries, a strong community commitment to protecting the most vulnerable.

I am also very proud of the spirit of solidarity that characterized interactions between countries of our Region in 2020 – from technical exchanges on issues such as laboratory testing and clinical management, to working together in joint incident management teams, and commitments to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Countries in the Region really have come together, borne out of a recognition that no country is safe until every country is safe.

Of course, none of the things I have described are unique to the Western Pacific Region. But they came together in 2020 in a unique way – sparing us from the scale of devastation that we are currently sadly seeing in other parts of the world. But this is obviously no time to be complacent: the pandemic is far from over, and how COVID-19 evolves in 2021 depends on all of us: our individual and collective actions will determine the course that the pandemic takes next.

As the holiday period draws to a close and we begin this new year, I encourage everyone in COVID- contained countries across our Region, those who are able to be together with their families and communities in-person, to discuss what they can do to be ready to apply the public health measures that we see working elsewhere in our Region, as and when they are needed.

Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific

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