Jan 20, 2020 Last Updated 9:56 PM, Jan 16, 2020

July (13)

The Pacific Council of Churches takes on climate change, self determination

Since being elected as the Pacific Council of Churches’ General secretary last October, Reverend James Bhagwan has continued to advocate on issues of climate justice, gender equality, self-determination and interreligious dialogue. Islands Business met with Reverend Bhagwan, who is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji , to hear about PCC’s areas of concern during his term and a trip to West Papua earlier this year.

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World Rugby’s campaign to develop women at all levels of the game is a landmark crusade that is creating increasing excitement in the Pacific islands region.

The campaign—which goes by the tagline ‘Try and Stop Us. Start Rugby. Become Unstoppable’—promotes strength, power, confidence and most importantly, togetherness.

It has support at the highest levels, with World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont saying: “The development of women in rugby is the single greatest opportunity for our sport to grow in the next decade.” World Rugby estimates 9 million people participate in rugby worldwide, and 2.7 million, or more than a quarter of them, are women. Further, its annual research shows that 40 per cent of rugby’s 400 million fan base are female.

World Rugby has chosen 15 women and girls involved in all levels of rugby and branded them as ‘Unstoppable’ as champions of the campaign. World Rugby’s general manager for women’s rugby, Katie Sadleir says: “we’ve got coaches, match officials, players and administrators all with a different story about why they are unstoppable”.

An unstoppable Fijian
Fijiana player Litia Naiqato represents the Pacific islands in the Unstoppable campaign. The lanky forward has had her own struggle to rise to the top of her sport in a country where rugby is associated with, and is dominated by, men.

Naiqato says she has been on the receiving end of many “sarcastic comments” that she will never make it rugby. But she has endured through it all. “It was my passion and love of rugby makes me walk that extra mile,” says Naiqato.

She is hopeful that attitudes will change in Fiji and that women can also play the tough sport of rugby. “I never look back to what they said or follow what they want….I did not care about their comments,” she says.

Naiqato dreams big. “I just want to win something for Fiji and be the heroes like the boys. I want, at the next Olympics, to be standing at the podium. To take something back home”.

The ‘Get into Rugby Plus ‘ partnership
Our region is tainted by having one the highest rates of gender-based violence worldwide.

‘Get into Rugby Plus’ is another initiative established to prevent violence against women and girls and promote gender equality. A partnership between the European Union, Australian Government, United Nations Women and Oceania Rugby, it operates on a $19.5 million budget. The program was introduced in 2017 and is still in pilot stage.

UN Women Fiji representative, Jacqui Berrell says: “The model includes training coaches to facilitate life skill sessions to promote a positive behaviour through a mentoring approach. The life skill curriculum is built around the rugby values of integrity, solidarity, respect, discipline and passion, and through that, supporting young people in a process of critical thinking and reflection around issues of gender, power relationships and healthy,
respectful relationships.”

With the help of the Fiji Rugby Union, the programme has been trialled in Fiji’s Central and Western Divisions. It featured 18 trained coaches with 270 students from 10 primary schools who underwent 10 sessions over 10 weeks. The organisers say the first trial saw improvements in players’ knowledge of rugby; better understanding of where to get support if feeling unsafe; a sense of being capable of positively influencing peers; and belief in the ability of girls and women to be leaders. The program continues this school term.

While these outcomes applied to the young female participants, some coaches, such as Tevita Koroi, also found it a positive experience: “The experience has enlightened me that there is more to rugby than just physical fitness and rugby skills”.

Another male coach stated: “Rugby can also be a vehicle for instilling good values and lifelong life skills in our players. Moreover, it has also taught me to try and get to know more about my players’ family background and try to find ways and means to assist them if they need help emotionally or financially.”

The programme is considering expansion into other Pacific island countries such as Samoa and the Solomon Islands in 2020.

The Tongan hurdle
Last year it was controversially reported that women in Tonga were prohibited from playing rugby in a move to “preserve the dignity of Tongan women and hold on to Tongan cultural women,” as the Education Ministry reportedly put it.

Tempers quickly flared, with the President of the Tongan Women’s Association Fehoko Tu’ivai commenting on TV New Zealand: “How can we teach our girls to be independent when we keep making choices for them?”

Women’s rights advocate, Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki concurred: “It is really taking us back from all the work we have done so far in trying to achieve and bring forward gender equality in Tonga”.

In a later statement, Manu Akau’ola, a Senior Education officer claimed that it was a case of misunderstanding and confusion. However trepidation remains. The affair flushed out many of the attitudes held by traditionalists and demonstrated the challenges women in rugby continue to face.

Part of these concerns stem from the fact rugby is a contact sport. The team at UN Women in Fiji team say: “While acts of aggression and violence are often attributed to players in rugby and other sports, the rugby code condones such acts and promotes rugby as a sport that continuously works to unite people. Get into rugby PLUS uses tag rugby as a non-contact basis for young girls and boys to learn skills and strategy of rugby. Tag rugby allows players to build a sound foundation for the game in a safe environment as they develop the maturity to move to contact versions of the game, should they choose to. The aim is to ensure everyone can feel safe and welcome to play rugby, without discrimination nor harm based on race, gender, religion or sexuality”.

Perhaps women in rugby can take some inspiration from their sisters’ recent performance at the Pacific Games in Samoa. While the code is different, the women’s rugby league competition was a muddy exciting affair, which saw the Fiji team emerge victorious. The sevens competition was scheduled to start as we went to print.


SPC’s new boss, West Papua politicking, Bishop’s new role, Tone deaf in Chimbu and Palau’s security breach.

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Movers and shakers

NEW Caledonia’s new President is Thierry Santa. The anti-independence politician was elected by 11 Government members in June. he is part of the ‘Future with Confidence’ coalition.

Reverend David Vunagi is the new Governor General for the Solomon Islands. he was a former Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Melanesia. hailing from Isabel Province, Vunagi was the sole nominee for the position.

Dr Teuea Toatu is Kiribati’s new Vice President, replacing Kourabi Nenem. He is the current Minister for Finance and Economic Development, and the member for the constituency of Abalang.

Marshall Islands Chief secretary Ben Graham has returned to the Asian Development Bank after a productive stint with the Marshall Islands government. At his official farewell, Graham was praised by RMI Government officials for being a remarkable leader with integrity.

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The Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF), Fiji’s sole national pension fund may have been churning out multi-million-dollar profits over the years but running its nation-wide operation has also been a costly business.  in what is believed to be its highest bill ever, the fund revealed its total expenses topped over F$50million (US$23million) in 2018 alone, the bulk of which was spent on ‘general administration expenses’.  This was a marked increase from the F$39.47 million it incurred in total expenses in 2017, according to its 2018 annual report.

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PHAMA Plus was launched in Suva on 11 April 2019 although it has been operating since 1 November 2018. The ‘Plus’ tag signifies that it is a follow-up to the original PHAMA, which is the acronym for Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access. This multi-country Aid for Trade (AfT) programme is funded by Australia and New Zealand. Like all AfT funding, it is aimed at helping developing countries, in particular Least Developed
Countries, to build trade capacity and the infrastructure they need to benefit from trade.

AfT is an initiative of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It was launched in 2005 at the WTO Conference in Hong Kong. Its taskforce was established the year after in 2006, and 2007 saw its first stage of implementation. The following year indicators were formulated to help with its monitoring. The 2015 WTO Conference in Nairobi further boosted its recognition and importance. Annual monitoring of AfT since 2009 had been conducted to achieve specific developmental outcomes. For example for 2009, the theme was ‘maintaining momentum’ and for 2010 it was ‘showing results.’

The original PHAMA started in 2011. Initially, an AusAIDfunded initiative, NZAID joined later. The initiative focused on five Pacific island countries (PICs): Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. At the time, only Fiji, Solomon Islands and Tonga were WTO contracting parties. Samoa and Vanuatu became contracting parties in 2012. Papua New Guinea became a beneficiary of the initiative later, and had been a WTO contracting party since 1996.

The original PHARMA facility ran for seven years to 2018. It’s goal “was to increase exports of fresh and value-added agricultural products, contributing to economic growth and improved rural livelihoods. There were three main expected outcomes: (i) increased export volumes, (ii) better farmgate prices, and (iii) protection of existing export markets.” The new PHAMA Plus Program provides a ‘Country Strategy Note’ (CSN) for each beneficiary countries, in which evaluations of the outcomes, and more, are discussed in detail.

In retrospect, each of these PICs has reasons to be positive about the results of PHAMA. In Vanuatu, the last of the PICs above to become a WTO contracting party, PHAMA’s main contributions were in kava, beef, cocoa, sandalwood, handicrafts, beekeeping and food safety.

Vanuatu’s CSN has this to say on ‘food safety’: “PHAMA provided support for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) accreditation of three businesses and a HACCP Train-the-Trainer course to build industry and government capacity.” HACCP is a systematic preventive approach to food safety from biological, chemical and physical hazards in production processes that can cause the finished product to be unsafe and designs measures to reduce these risks to a safe level.

PHAMA Plus extends its facilities to the six original beneficiaries of PHAMA as well as to the small island states of the Forum on ratifying the PACER Plus trade agreement.

PHAMA Plus is an A$36million investment spanning four years (2018-2022). It has three end-of-program outcomes: (i) producers and exporters use maintained and new export market access for Pacific export products; (ii) women and men exporters, processors and producers adopt quality and productivity enhancing innovations for their export products, and (iii) women and men staff of Pacific biosecurity authorities perform their market
access facilitation functions better.

For Vanuatu, PHAMA Plus continues the momentum of PHAMA. Eleven sectors were proposed for coverage – from agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry and handicrafts. However, for more effective management and approach, these sectors are being grouped into four categories.

Such commitment by Australia and New Zealand, two developed WTO contracting parties, is notable for three reasons. Firstly, Fiji and PNG, despite pulling out from PACER Plus, remain as beneficiaries under PHAMA Plus. Their continued involvement could be justified on the basis of their previous benefit under PHAMA, and because there is still more to be done. Furthermore, they are important trading partners for Australia, New Zealand and the region, under inter-Pacific island countries trade. Under Pacific regionalism and Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) sub-regionalism, for example, the contribution by these two PICs to economic integration would be immense. Inter-Pacific island countries trade in the region is currently conducted under the Pacific Islands Trade Agreement (PICTA). For the sub-region it is conducted under the MSG Trade Agreement (MSGTA).

An additional justification is that both Fiji and PNG are WTO contracting parties, like Australia and New Zealand, albeit developing contracting parties. As developed contracting partners, Australia and New Zealand would have drawn on their commitment to helping developing WTO contracting parties from the relevant provisions and spirit of GATT 1947 – the principal WTO guide for the negotiations of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) - especially Article XXIV (Territorial Application – Frontier Traffic – Customs Unions and Free-trade Areas, Article XXV (Joint Action by the Contracting Parties), Part IV: Trade and Development – Article XXXVI (Principles and Objectives), Article XXXVII (Commitments), and Article XXXVIII (Joint Action).

The second reason why Australia and New Zealand’s commitment under PHAMA Plus is of note is that both have agreed to extend this facility to non-WTO contracting parties in general – to small island states, when they ratify PACER Plus. This includes eight Pacific island countries that participated in the PACER Plus negotiations: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu. Of these, five have signed PACER Plus and are working towards ratification.

The situation that has evolved is not an afterthought. Australia and New Zealand agreed during the PACER Plus negotiations that they would commit resources for AfT. They would have been driven by their sense of commitment - explicit and implicit, in the GATT articles above. Furthermore, they would have been driven by their commitment to Pacific regionalism, especially regional economic integration as they had done over the years through trade and economic instruments like the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA) (1981), Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) (2003) and PACER Plus (2017).

During the PACER Plus negotiations, Australia pledged an AfT funding target for the Pacific of 20% of Pacific Official Development Assistance (ODA). New Zealand pledged a similar percentage of its total ODA.

The third and final reason why Australia and New Zealand’s commitment is of note is the interactions of different initiatives at play here. An original bilateral initiative by AusAID, in response to its multilateral commitment, became extended bilateral aid with NZAID in the greater interest of Pacific regionalism. The combined facility proved effective and is now extended. It has become a specific tool for multilateralism, from whence it came, and with which Australia and New Zealand can aspire to assist even those countries that are not members of that multilateral body.

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?

Next generation skills

Will workers of the future be ready?

Space tourism guide, criminal redirection officer, commercial drone pilot, 3-D printing technician, augmented reality developer and personal privacy advisor; these are just some of the roles of the future says Dr Claire Nelson from The Futures Forum.

A Jamaican futurist, Dr Nelson led a session on ‘Pacific 4.0: Next generation skills for the Blue Pacific’ at the Pacific Skills Summit in Suva recently which aimed  to promote investment in skills development to “realise the Pacific’s sustainable development efforts.” she talked through a list of skills our children and their children will need for job markets of the future, including the ability to collaborate virtually,  filter information by importance, translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and understand data-based reasoning; plus digital literacy, a design mindset, social intelligence and adaptive thinking.

But how well equipped are the Pacific’s young people and our education systems to meet those needs?

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The Rotuman expression, “the land has eyes and teeth” is the starting point for a project looking at how communities across the Pacific have established models of economic engagement that challenge negative perceptions around  customary land.

Academics from New Zealand’s Massey University and the University of the South Pacific presented preliminary findings of their research project at the Pacific Update conference in Fiji recently.

Regina Scheyvens, Litea Meo-Sewabu and Suliasi Vunibola have looked at businesses in Samoa and Fiji. What they have found challenge the belief that limits to freehold title and ownership are a barrier to long term planning and  access to finance, and that such limits necessarily  create conflict.

The team found that the businesses, from tourism ventures such as  Taufua Beach Fales and, Faofao Beach Fales in Samoa, to Aviva and Nayarabale Youth Farms in Fiji, share several common characteristics.

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The Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) will set up a fund to help develop its pioneering sovereign digital currency. Work on RMI’s government-backed digital coin or SOV, which will use blockchain technology, is now into its second year. To be funded solely by SOV, the new not-for-profit SOV Development Fund “will be responsible for maintaining the SOV network in the long term, seed the ecosystem in the long term, promote the usage of the SOV both domestically and internationally and smooth the volatility of the SOV by selling and buying against the us dollar,” says David Paul, head of SOV project and RMI’s Minister-in-Assistance to the President.

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