JUST before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, the Wallabies thrashed the All Blacks 47-26 in the first game of the Bledisloe Cup. As a rugby fan, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison might have taken this as a good omen, as he headed to his first Forum leaders’ retreat in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Bad mistake.
Straight after the Forum, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama rushed home to watch the broadcast of the deciding game at Eden Park. After a tense week in Tuvalu, one suspects the Fiji leader, a confirmed Wallabies fan, was cheering for the All Blacks. They thrashed Australia 36-0.
It’s an appropriate symbol for the thrashing of Australia’s climate policies in the 18-member regional organisation. In Funafuti, the score was 17-1.
Much of the media coverage has focussed on Australia’s efforts to censor the language of the final Forum communique, as if this is new or that Australia is the only country pushing its own agenda (shock, horror, the sky is blue!) But despite the watered-down language, there are elements in the final Kainaki II climate declaration that will horrify Morrison’s conservative backbench.
Communiques come and go, but the key feature of the leaders’ retreat is that it provides a chance for Presidents and Prime Ministers to meet face to face, build friendships, or at least come to a practical working relationship. On this basis, Morrison’s actions in Tuvalu were a disaster.
Listening to post-retreat comments from Pacific leaders and officials, Morrison’s ham-fisted interventions on climate policy have alienated many of his island counterparts. Having seen off successive Australian Prime Ministers over the last decade – Rudd, Gillard, Rudd again, Abbott, Turnbull and now Morrison – old-timers like Samoa’s Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi don’t take kindly to being lectured by a first-time participant. Speaking to The Guardian newspaper around the grog bowl after the retreat, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama blasted Morrison as “very insulting, very condescending, not good for the relationship.”
“After yesterday’s meeting I gathered he was here only to make sure that the Australian policies were upheld by the Pacific island nations,” Bainimarama said. “I thought Morrison was a good friend of mine; apparently not. The Prime Minister at one stage, because he was apparently [backed] into a corner by the leaders, came up with how much money Australia have been giving to the Pacific. He said: ‘I want that stated. I want that on the record.’ Very insulting.”
New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, in contrast, kept her head down. As leaders entered the retreat, she strolled alongside Bainimarama and sat beside him during the meeting. The Fijian leader later tweeted: “When combatting climate change, it’s good to have an ally like New Zealand in your corner. Together we can save Tuvalu, the Pacific and the world. Vinaka vakalevu for the passion you bring to the fight.”
Point noted in both Wellington and Canberra. Morrison’s favourite radio shock jock Alan Jones said the Australian Prime Minister should “shove a shock down her throat” (after an advertising boycott, Jones later grovelled and apologised to the NZ leader).
In the past, Forum leaders used to hold back on their public criticism of Australian and New Zealand behaviour at the Forum, recognising that we are all bound together by geography and history. Those days are gone. As Australia “steps-up” and New Zealand “re-sets” their engagement with the region, the old paternalistic rhetoric about working with “our backyard” and “the Pacific family” doesn’t wash anymore.
In the new geo-political context, Forum Island leaders are being wooed by a range of old friends such as Japan and the European Union, as well as new partners: China with loans and infrastructure; Cuba with medical training; India with technology transfers; Germany with technical assistance and funding for development – this list goes on. Today, Australia and New Zealand are not the only game in town and Pacific leaders have learnt to leverage these alternatives. Canberra wants to be the donor of choice, but China has deep pockets.
A week before the Tuvalu summit, a PNG press release citing Prime Minister James Marape said that Port Moresby was seeking to refinance its national debt from China. Marape later walked back from the statement, but the point was made. A flurry of cables between Canberra, Tokyo and Washington will help PNG negotiators talk to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and get a much better deal to address PNG’s debt pressures.
The Forum meeting in Funafuti was also important for host Enele Sopoaga, who faces national elections in September. Tuvalu hasn’t hosted the leaders’ meeting since 1984 and the whole community had turned out to assist the international delegations. It was a very positive and enthusiastic welcome to the atoll nation. It follows the unprecedented visit to Tuvalu last May by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Stopping off as well in Fiji, Vanuatu and New Zealand, Guterres was photographed for the cover of Time magazine, with water lapping around his legs. At the Forum, island leaders were pushing for the strongest possible language in the final communique and climate declaration, to take to next month’s UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York.
Last year’s Forum in Nauru was marked by tense exchanges, including a Chinese walkout of the Forum partner dialogue, American bluster from the US Secretary of the Interior, the police detention of a NZ journalist for talking to refugees and more. This year the tone was more low-key, despite ongoing disputes over China/Taiwan and Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Indonesian delegation was disappointed that all Forum leaders backed Vanuatu’s call for stronger action by Indonesia on human rights abuses in West Papua, encouraging Jakarta to set a date for a visit by the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
Australia’s big announcement in Tuvalu was a pledge of A$500 million over five years from 2020 to help island nations invest in renewable energy and climate and disaster resilience. But Forum island leaders are angry that the pledge is not new and additional funding, but simply drawn from existing aid funds.
Australian aid to the Pacific has been “stepped up” under the Coalition government - but only by slashing aid to Africa and South East Asia. Australia’s official development assistance (ODA) is currently 0.22 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) and will continue to fall in coming years. Ewen Macdonald, the new head of the Office of the Pacific within Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told a Senate Estimates Committee last year: “In terms of volume of money it is not the lowest, but in terms of GNI, it is the lowest since records were kept in 1974.”
Speaking after the Smaller Island States meeting in Funafuti, Sopoaga welcomed Australian financial support, but stressed: “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing – that is, cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines.”
Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine told Islands Business: “We’re discouraged and disappointed at the fact that Australia is still actively using coal for their own power generation, and it looks like that is something that is going to continue into the future.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnston once claimed that the United Kingdom could “have our cake and eat it” through Brexit, as it negotiates Britain’s departure from the European Union: “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.”
Pacific island leaders also want to have their cake and eat it. They welcome the support – financial, human, diplomatic and technical – from Australia, New Zealand and other development partners. But they also want Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern to respond to their concerns about the existential threat of climate change.
Many Forum island countries clearly welcome direct, bilateral support for climate adaptation and resilience initiatives. Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor also wants donor support for the new Pacific Resilience Facility, adopted at the Tuvalu summit. But island leaders think globally, as well as locally. They see Australia backing the Trump administration by refusing replenishment funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
The declaration from the Sautalaga Climate Dialogue, held the day before the official Forum, noted “the significant role that the GCF plays in supporting developing countries in their efforts to address climate change. We call for a prompt, ambitious and successful replenishment of the GCF.”
Islands Business asked Prime Minister Morrison if the pleas of island leaders had persuaded him to change his government’s policy, refusing to make further financial contributions to the GCF. He replied: “No, it hasn’t, because I just want to invest directly in helping the Pacific family here. I don’t need to send a cheque via Geneva or New York or wherever it has to go.”
Given Australia was previously co-chair of the global climate fund, Morrison knows very well the GCF Secretariat is actually in South Korea. But abusing the United Nations and multi-lateral agencies plays well to conservative members of his own party and panders to Australian voters who support Pauline Hanson’ One Nation.
Scott Morrison is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is stepping up efforts to maintain Australia’s long-standing policy of strategic denial in the islands. Members of Canberra’s hard-headed security community are worried a hostile power (i.e. China) could gain the political or economic influence that might open the way for island states to shift support from the Western bloc, or establish a military base that would transform regional security.
Morrison has made personal visits to Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and now Tuvalu and the Prime Minister often repeats the slogan that Australia is part of “the Pacific family.” But regardless of the “step up”, the Funafuti Forum exposed many policy rifts between Australia and its island neighbours.
Successive Coalition governments elected since 2013 have badly damaged institutions that play a practical role in engagement with the region. The gutting of Radio Australia has allowed China to use their shortwave broadcasting frequencies. The takeover of AusAID by DFAT lost a generation of development expertise, which is only now being rebuilt through the Office of the Pacific. Volunteer programs lost funding; then newly announced funds came with increased DFAT micro-management. The CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology lost climate-related funding, vital for research on cyclones and disasters.
After the Forum, former Kiribati President Anote Tong revived the debate on whether to shun Australia within the Forum: “Should there be sanctions imposed? I think that’s a question that leaders are no doubt asking themselves. I think these things have got to be expressed. It’s not only in my mind, I’m sure it’s in everybody else’s mind. I’m surprised Australia is not seeing this, or they’re ignoring it, which is the height of arrogance.”
Australia won’t be going anywhere, but the next three Forum leaders’ meetings will be hosted by Vanuatu (2020), Fiji (2021) and Kiribati (2022). If Morrison hasn’t got the climate message in Tuvalu, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to understand in the next few years.
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?
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.
.....to read more buy your personal copy at
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.
.....to read more buy your personal copy at