U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Dialogue in Papua New Guinea
May 22, 2023
Secretary Blinken’s visit to Papua New Guinea for the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Dialogue is a testament to renewed U.S. commitment to our Pacific Island neighbors and partners. At the historic first-ever U.S.-Pacific Island Summit held in Washington in September 2022, President Biden announced a slate of ambitious initiatives that, working with Congress, will provide over $810 million in additional expanded programs to meet Pacific priorities. The Biden-Harris Administration is following through on these commitments, including through opening new U.S. embassies in the region in record time and expanding our diplomatic and development engagement to unprecedented levels. The United States is also working together with likeminded partners through the Partners in the Blue Pacific to collectively support Pacific priorities as outlined in the Pacific Islands Forum 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
Today, Secretary Blinken highlighted our commitment to working with Congress for over $7.2 billion in new funding and programs for the Pacific Islands region. This includes over $45 million in new programming for Papua New Guinea, as well as additional Pacific Islands programming. The President’s FY 2024 Budget also requests $7.1 billion over 20 years to extend assistance under the Compacts of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau.
With these new announcements, the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to working with Congress on providing over $8 billion to the Pacific Islands region since the historic first Summit in Washington, demonstrating U.S. commitment to the region. These announcements include the following lines of effort:
I. Delivering on the U.S.-Pacific Islands Partnership
At the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Dialogue, Secretary Blinken and Pacific Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Declaration on U.S.-Pacific Partnership issued in September 2022. The Declaration laid out an affirmative vision of cooperation and partnership to address shared challenges, bolster Pacific regionalism, advance economic growth and sustainable development, maintain peace and security in the Blue Pacific continent, and expand opportunities for our peoples. The United States has been delivering on our commitments from the historic first Summit, the Declaration on U.S.-Pacific Partnership, and the first ever U.S. national strategy on the Pacific Islands, the Pacific Partnership Strategy. This includes our request to Congress for $7.1 billion in funding over 20 years under the Compacts of Free Association for the Freely Associated States and signing agreements to extend Compact-related assistance with the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau to extend Compact-related assistance.
- Signing Agreements related to the Compacts of Free Association with Palau and Federated States of Micronesia (FSM): Extending COFA-related assistance is a critical component of the Administration’s Indo-Pacific, Pacific Partnership, and National Security Strategies, necessary to enhancing our relationships with the Freely Associated States and to maintaining our status as a committed preferred partner in the Pacific. In Papua New Guinea, Special Presidential Envoy for Compact Negotiations Joseph Yun signed the Palau 2023 Compact Review Agreement with Minister of Finance Kaleb Udui. The United States and FSM will sign Compact related agreements on May 23 in the FSM.
- New Embassy Openings: S. Embassy Honiara in Solomon Islands opened on January 27, 2023. U.S. Embassy Nuku’alofa in Tonga opened on May 9, and a public event is expected in the coming months. We are in active discussions regarding our interest in opening an embassy in Kiribati and have announced our intent to open an embassy in Vanuatu, subject to host government approval and completion of Congressional notification procedures.
- Returning Peace Corps to the Region: In September 2022, we announced that the Peace Corps would be returning to the Pacific region. Peace Corps Volunteers are now on the ground in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, and will return to Vanuatu later this year. The Peace Corps is also assessing the reestablishment of operations, budget permitting, in Solomon Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
II. Expanding People-to-People Connections
The United States is following through on commitments to strengthen people-to-people ties with our Pacific Islands neighbors. We are also leveraging connections with academia, sports, and the private sector to build connections between our peoples.
- Expanding American Spaces in the Pacific: The United States intends to enhance and expand access to our American Spaces across the Pacific with a focus on inclusivity and accessibility and promoting people-to-people connections to build mutual understanding and partnerships. In modern environments equipped with advanced technologies, visitors to American Spaces can explore and share a wide range of topics and ideas, access reliable information, develop practical professional skills, and participate in programs that foster economic strength, hone critical thinking, and build capacity. Through a new Regional Public Engagement Specialist (REPS) position in Suva, Fiji, the United States will support the operations of American Spaces throughout the Pacific Islands. In addition to the recently opened American Center in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the United States intends to work with the Carnegie Library in Suva to open an American Corner and develop American Spaces for Solomon Islands, Tonga, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
- Building Relationships through Sports in the Pacific: S. sports diplomacy programs in the Pacific are fostering resilience, health, economic development, and gender equity as well as building people-to-people ties. In the last six months alone, U.S. athletes and coaches in surfing, running, rugby, and football have visited Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, and Kiribati, as well as with Indigenous Australians and New Zealanders. American female surfers traveled to Papua New Guinea to teach youth surfing skills while advocating for greater gender equity policies in sports. On May 19, eight Tongan and 10 Fijian female athletes and coaches traveled to the United States to participate in the State Department-funded International Sports Programming Initiative (ISPI) to build leadership skills and discuss the role that sports can play in preventing gender-based violence.
- Expanding the Special Professional Fellows Program for Young Economic Empowerment Leaders: For the first time, fellows from Cook Islands, New Caledonia, and Niue will join a group of 10 Fellows from other Pacific Islands on a four-week, U.S.-based exchange to collaborate with U.S. professionals on post-pandemic equitable and sustainable economic recovery The program features individually tailored Fellowships at private and public sector organizations across the United States which are designed to enhance the Fellows’ leadership and professional skills. The Professional Fellows Program has supported programming in the Pacific Islands since 2018.
- Launching the U.S.-Pacific Institute for Rising Leaders: The Department of State is working with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on the newly created U.S.-Pacific Institute for Rising Leaders, announced last September. Beginning in the fall of 2023, this multi-year program will bring exceptional rising leaders from the private sector, government, media, and non-profit organizations across the Pacific to Washington, D.C. for several weeks of professional and leadership development.
- Announcing the Indo-Pacific Museum Exchange Partnership: In summer 2023, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Cultural Heritage Center will launch a new, two-year exchange program for cultural heritage specialists from Indo-Pacific countries. The Indo-Pacific Museum Exchange Partnership will build capacity to preserve and promote national identity and create a network of museum professionals across the region. Participants from Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu will join participants from across the region to develop and share knowledge about collections management, conservation, and public engagement for the cultural objects in the national museums of these countries, many of which are important to Indigenous Peoples and the national identities of these countries.
- 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture 2024: The United States is pleased to support the Governor of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Community (SPC) in hosting the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC) June 6-16, 2024, in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. We look forward to providing a warm welcome filled with the Aloha Spirit to FestPAC delegations of royal families and Ministers to Indigenous practitioners and student performers next year.
III. Climate Action, Clean Energy, and Sustainable Infrastructure
The United States is committed to keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius limit on global warming within reach, including through outreach to major emitters to raise ambition and to take action in this critical decade. We are committed to helping Pacific Islands manage both sudden-onset impacts of climate change, such as major storms, and slow-onset impacts such as sea-level rise. To date, USAID has helped Pacific Islands countries unlock more than $500 million from international organizations such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Adaptation Fund, and the Global Environment Facility. The Administration will also work to scale the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) in the region to deliver quality, sustainable energy, physical, digital, health, and climate-resilient infrastructure.
- Technical Assistance Support for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Pacific Resilience Facility: The United States intends to provide $2 million, subject to Congressional notification and the completion of domestic procedures, to support the PIF to design and stand up the Pacific Resilience Facility (PRF). This program is envisioned to support investments into enhancing adaptation and resilience at the local level in the Pacific Islands. The United States is proud to be among the founding development partners for this important new initiative promoting better access to climate finance in the Pacific.
- Reaffirming New Sea-level Rise Policy: The United States reaffirms our sea-level rise policy announced at the September 2022 Summit, which says that climate change-driven sea-level rise “should not diminish” maritime economic zones of coastal states and calls on all countries to commit to supporting this policy by COP 28.
- Transportation Partnership with the Pacific Islands (TPPI): The Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Trade & Development Agency (USTDA) conducted a joint scoping trip to Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga in February 2023 on transportation priorities and challenges to inform the basis for bilateral and regional technical assistance and capacity building activities. Initial near-term DOT cooperation will focus on aviation safety with the Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) and bilaterally through Federal Aviation Administration engagement. In the medium-term, DOT is exploring other areas of cooperation, including maritime development, decarbonization, transportation safety, sustainability, planning, and inclusivity. USTDA is also currently evaluating transportation opportunities in airport and port upgrades, aviation safety, drone delivery, EVs, and climate-smart transportation.
- Pacific Islands Port Leaders Visit: USTDA will host a Pacific Islands Port Leaders Visit Reverse Trade Mission that will bring a delegation of 15 port sector leaders from the Pacific Islands to the United States to familiarize them with U.S. technologies, services, and best practices that can improve port operations, security, and sustainability in the region. The visit advances the goals of the Transportation Partnership with the Pacific Islands, launched last September, by promoting sustainable transportation infrastructure in the region.
- Pacific Islands Strategic Infrastructure Initiative: USTDA launched a call for proposals to develop quality infrastructure for the Pacific Islands and conducted a six-country scoping mission to the Pacific Islands. The Call for Proposals closed in April 2023, and USTDA is currently evaluating over 80 proposals from 11 Pacific Islands countries that have the potential to develop high-quality infrastructure projects and help unlock financing. This work builds on USTDA’s current activities in the Pacific Islands aimed at unlocking over $450 million in financing for clean energy, connectivity, and digital infrastructure solutions.
IV. Economic Partnership and Recovery
The United States is committed to partnering with the Pacific Islands and allies and partners to drive economic growth and prosperity, including through increasing trade and investment; providing assistance to strengthen enabling environments, infrastructure, and macroeconomic stability; and continued support for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Conclusion of Negotiations on Economic Assistance Agreement Related to the Tuna Treaty: The United States is following through on its pledge to request from Congress $600 million over ten years in connection with a new Economic Assistance Agreement associated with the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. We and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency have concluded negotiations on a new 10-year agreement, and the President has included $60 million for the first year of the agreement in the FY 2024 budget request to Congress. The United States is working on completion of its domestic procedures to conclude the agreement.
- Supporting Economic Growth by Promoting High Quality Business Opportunities in Pacific Islands Countries: The Department of Commerce will lead a U.S. business delegation to Pacific Islands countries in the coming year, complemented by virtual trade promotion events. The trade mission delegation will seek to bring U.S. company representatives together with host nation officials, business associations, and potential private sector partners, distributors, and licensees to learn about business opportunities in Pacific Islands countries. Target market sectors will include high-impact government procurements, particularly in seaports, airports, energy, healthcare, and telecommunications sectors.
- Increasing Competitiveness and Economic Inclusion by Bolstering Commercial Cooperation with Pacific Islands Countries: The Department of Commerce has begun the process of engaging interested Pacific Islands countries in discussions on bilateral Memoranda of Commercial Cooperation, aimed at supporting partners in expanding trade and investment with the United States, while improving business climates in the Pacific Islands.
- Technical Assistance for Aviation Security to Support Reopening Borders in the Pacific: Since 2022, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has conducted aviation security oversight visits to Fiji, Samoa, and French Polynesia in support of Pacific border reopening and to ensure the security integrity of the civil aviation sector. TSA plans to visit Cook Islands and Kiribati in the second half of 2023. Civil aviation authority representatives from Fiji and Samoa have been nominated to attend the Idaho National Lab Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity Training in June 2023. TSA, along with the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the International Civil Aviation Organization, will host a Joint Covert Testing workshop in July 2023, where countries including Solomon Islands and Vanuatu will learn to utilize joint covert testing programs to strengthen global aviation security effectiveness.
- Supporting Health through COVID-19 Vaccines: The United States has provided over 1.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Pacific Islands countries. Through our partnership with COVAX, the United States has donated over 860,000 life-saving doses of the Pfizer vaccine across the Pacific Islands countries. Recent deliveries include the first U.S.-donated pediatric Pfizer doses (19,200) to Kiribati and the first U.S.-donated Tris Pfizer vaccines (70,200) to Solomon Islands. Through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we have also provided an additional 476,270 doses to the Freely Associated States of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands. USAID and HHS, through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), are working with partners to ensure these vaccines reach people who need it most and are administered efficiently and safely.
- Deployment of NOAA Ship Rainier to support Pacific Hydrographic Survey Requests: The United States deployed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Rainier April 30-May 1, 2023, to conduct a hydrographic survey of Kanton Island and its port area per a request from the Kiribati Ministry of Information, Communication, and Transport (MICT). This is the first-ever, high-resolution multibeam mapping mission conducted of Kanton Island, and the data will be used to improve maritime safety and support new infrastructure projects. NOAA is working with MICT to develop Kiribati’s first integrated geospatial information framework with additional projects forthcoming.
V. Bolstering Security Cooperation and Maritime Domain Awareness
The United States is committed to ensuring the Blue Pacific Continent remains a place of peace and prosperity. We are strengthening our cooperation with Pacific Islands countries on improving maritime domain awareness, combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and countering transnational criminal activity.
- Expanding United States Coast Guard (USCG) Security Cooperation in the Pacific: The U.S. Coast Guard conducts cooperative training with Pacific Islands country partners to expand their maritime security capabilities through technical resident training at U.S. Coast Guard schools and focused subject matter expert exchanges. Under the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement-funded Pacific Australia Maritime Partnership (AMP) program, the USCG continues to provide maritime law enforcement trainings through in-region mobile training team (MTT) engagements with recipients of Australia’s Guardian Class patrol boats. In 2023, the U.S. Coast Guard will conduct 15 MTT visits to Pacific Islands countries.
- Improving Security Sector Governance: At the 2022 Summit we committed to improving security sector governance and institutional capacity of U.S. partners through advisory support efforts. As part of the Global Defense Reform Program, we are implementing projects in Palau through an embedded senior advisor focused on maritime security governance; in the Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands through intermittent capacity building engagements by the U.S. Coast Guard; and in Vanuatu through an embedded senior advisor focused on maritime security and safety.