Apr 10, 2021 Last Updated 4:12 AM, Apr 8, 2021

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

Is development assistance for poor developing countries about altruism, or is it all about economic and strategic self-interest for the Pacific’s biggest donor, Australia?

How can aid truly reduce poverty, increase literacy and numeracy levels, gain gender parity where there is none, or change the patriarchal make-up of our societies and reduce violence against women?

Will decreased donor dependence ever be possible in the Pacific, given the high reliance on aid? Despite the depth of aid, our region is performing poorly, at least by Australian measurements, giving donors the technical high ground and moral ‘voice’ in program input, design and evaluation.

Do Pacific governments have an interest beyond the electoral cycle to use development assistance to actually advance beyond their current stages of economic growth and uplift standards of living for Pacific people?

These were the questions I had as a first timer to the 2020 Australasian Aid Conference hosted by the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University. I came away enriched, however a little bewildered at how poorly the region understood and did development, and with more questions than answers.

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For the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the disappointment of COP25 was that the conference attendees did not take its rallying cry for greater commitment: ‘climate change crisis’ - to heart. Recall the PIF Chair’s remark after the conference: “It is disheartening that our collective political commitment and resolve, as the Pacific Islands Forum, was not upheld by the parties to this declaration, where it mattered most – that is in the negotiating rooms in Madrid.”

In reviewing what was said and published post-COP25, however, it seems that the ‘climate change crisis’ message has obviously hit its targets in the wider audiences - those who do not necessarily have reserved seats in the global conference rooms. Writer and historian Yuval Noah Harari, for example, has written about the prospects of an ‘ecological collapse’, and he sternly warned global leaders about it recently at their World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland last January. 

Another eminent writer and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, joined others in posing the question that in the light of the deteriorating climate change situation, whether humanity has started to breach some tipping points in climate change. Fred Pearce expands on this theme: “…the earth may be approaching key tipping points, including the runaway loss of ice sheets, that could fundamentally disrupt the global climate system. A growing concern is a change in ocean circulation which could alter climate patterns in a profound way.”

Furthermore, the Climate Emergency Movement has determined that: the “…world may have crossed tipping points - warning of ‘existential threat to civilisation’ as impacts lead to cascade of unstoppable events.” To underline the existentiality of the threat by way of analogy, the BBC News has pointed to its own nuclear Doomsday Clock which is now indicating how close our planet is to complete annihilation: “it is only 100 seconds away from midnight! This is the nearest we have been to apocalypse!”

Notwithstanding the disappointment of COP25, the reality of the climate change situation is that the solution - and there has to be a solution - has to be on a global level.

What therefore of the region? To grant globalism a modicum of success, regionalism has to step up its act. Greater global inter-dependence is called for. This implies a lot of things. As a start, for Pacific regionalism, for instance, it cannot be business as usual. Pacific regionalism has to be strengthened. New ideas, new solutions, new methodologies have to be found and put to use with unprecedented levels of energy and strength of commitment.

“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind”, echoes the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s famous song. And the commentator’s take: “The answers are there in the wind. They move, they change, but the answers are there. It’s only a matter of trying to pick them up.”

I have been playing the commentator’s role as a contributor to this magazine since last September. My article for the September/October (2019) issue: ‘Death of Pacific Regionalism?’, was a proposition that we need to approach Pacific regionalism differently from what we have been doing since 1971. My December article: ‘2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent: A Sea Change?’ explored the likely approach to the formulation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent in my attempt to build a regional architecture that is essential and conducive for a fresh approach to Pacific regionalism.

My January 2020 article: ‘PIF Identity May Need Re-focusing’ delves deeper into what we are – our regional persona. If we are to be different and to assert our persona and our agency, we have to correct one of the building blocks of what we are and what we project to the world. My February article: ‘PIF Needs to Strategise After COP25’, points to some options that our new approach can take, especially in the context of our existential threat of climate change, given the disappointment of COP25. I discussed the prospects of southsouth, north-south and triangular co-operations in addition to our multilateral approach.

Now, let us look for some other answers in the wind. The proposed 2050 Strategy is giving prominence to the interests of Pacific Island Countries (PICs), not only in terms of issues and policies but also in terms of their options as regards the regional architecture of Pacific regionalism. This makes a lot of sense when it comes to climate change. There is no unity in climate change among PIF members. But it is the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) amongst them that understand fully the existentiality of the threat that climate change presents.

In geopolitics as well, PICs are generally used as pawns of the bigger and developed powerful countries, especially the Pacific Rim countries. PICs know best their own situations and feel more passionately about being shunned and ignored when other powerful allies abuse their agency and speak on their behalf as if they don’t exist.

In mid-2019, an answer had blown in from the northern wind when former Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu suggested the ‘United States of the Pacific’ as a way of restructuring Pacific regionalism. This was a way of creating a forum for PICs only and he justified this as a means ‘to amplify(ing) their concerns about climate change on the global stage.’

A new answer blew in late last year in the form of a consultant report to PIFS on ‘Review of the Forum Processes’. I admit that I was one of the consultants that drafted the report. My partner in crime and a senior partner at that was Garry Wisemen, formerly of UNDP and PIFS. Strengthening the role of the PIF Troika (comprising at any time the former, current and in-coming Chairs) was recommended in the report. And what better way to start the work of the empowered Troika than on the climate change crisis! If managed and resourced well, there could be early dividends to reap.

The current composition of the Troika comprises Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The all-PIC composition is ideal for the Troika’s strengthened role in climate change crisis. Its role has to be formalised and protected. It should not be subjected to variation with changing membership.

The Troika is to be charged to spearhead all discussions/negotiations/advocacy on climate change crisis, starting with relevant PIF membership and extending beyond the region. These negotiations need to be intensive and focused. The Troika is to direct its first advocacy with PIF’s developed country members of Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). PIF will be more convincing globally if it starts its climate change  crisis advocacy properly at home.

The Troika’s work, as far as ANZ are concerned, is unequivocal, given our climate change knowledge of the causes of greenhouse gas emissions of those countries. For Australia, the PIF Troika is to advocate for an effective programme for that country to wean itself from fossil fuels. For New Zealand, the Troika is to advocate for the production of ‘clean meat’ in the not-too-distant future.

‘Yes, and how many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows, that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.’

 

The author is a former Fijian Ambassador and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.

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