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Pacific Islands

US Pacific tuna payment default looms

Bali, Indonesia

Eugene Pangelinan

From Netani Rika in Bali

The United States is on a collision course with Pacific nations as it attempts to get itself off the hook on a fishing deal signed in September.

On the fringes of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 12th Session opening in Bali this week, US officials are approaching their Pacific counterparts to take back the number of days that were agreed

State Department officials are scrambling to sell back 2000 fishing days, worth around $USD20 million before payment becomes due on January 1, 2016.

Every one of the Pacific’s 17 fishing nations stands to gain from the 5700 days sold to US fishing companies for the 2016 season – a deal struck at considerable cost to the region.

Chairman of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, Eugene Pangelinan, described the situation as unfortunate.

They came asking for more days, we struggled, we found the days, now they have changed their mind - that’s not negotiating in good faith,” he said.

The ink on the contract is barely dry.

Tuna stocks

In August the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency states concluded a deal with the State Department for US companies to access tuna stocks.

They (the USA) pushed for significant number of days from us and basically we did enough in the end to find those days to meet their demand. This was a demand by the US fleet,” Pangelinan said.

The additional days for the Vessel Day Scheme were given up by Pacific nations from time, which would otherwise have been bought through bi-lateral agreements with partner nations.

For them to come back to us in December asking to return the days to us and make amendments to the treaty is a major concern,” Pangelinan said.

This treaty has come at great cost to us. If the US returns those days we will need to look at our options but at the end of the day we believe a deal is a deal.”

Budget shortfalls

For many Small Island Developing States in the Pacific, the US Tuna Treaty had significant impact on financial projections for 2016. Some states developed their budgets around prospective revenue under the deal.

According to the PNA Chairman, the US has signalled its desire to reopen negotiations on the treaty signed less than three months ago.

At this stage Mr Pangelinan does not want to describe Washington’s action as reneging on a deal made in good faith with the Pacific.

But if the US Pacific tuna fleet does not pay up on the due date, the region will have a problem.

We are taking steps on our own to mitigate the losses if the US refuses to pay,” Pangelinan said. “But in the end the fact remains that the US Department of State signed (the treaty), we allocated days and now all we expect is payment.”

The 12th Regular Session of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) will be held in Bali this week from December 3-8, 2015.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPF Convention) which entered into force on 19 June 2004.