Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield led the U.S. delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Cook Islands on November 10 as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to enhancing our partnership with the Pacific Islands to achieve our shared vision for a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, where individuals can reach their potential, the environment can thrive, and democracy can flourish. Since the Administration released the first ever U.S.-Pacific Partnership Strategy in 2022, we have announced we are working with Congress on plans to provide over $8 billion in new funding and programs for the Pacific Islands. The United States believes it is important to be guided by Pacific priorities and needs, including the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and the newly launched Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity.
Driving Forward the U.S.-Pacific Partnership
President Biden has emphasized that our partnership with the Pacific matters, and that we will step up our diplomatic and development cooperation in the region, including with the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretariat.
- Strengthening Regional Institutions: As a member of the Pacific Community (SPC) and Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), as well as a PIF Dialogue Partner, the United States firmly supports the Pacific regional architecture led by the PIF and values a strong, unified, and resilient PIF. In response to the priority PIF leaders have placed on strengthening capacity building to foster and develop Pacific leaders who embrace the principles of inclusive Pacific regionalism, the United States intends to provide $500,000, subject to Congressional notification, to strengthen the PIF’s institutional capacity and support the PIF’s Pacific Leadership Initiative. This funding will identify linkages and fill gaps in existing training and capacity building opportunities offered in the Pacific region. It will support a holistic approach to Pacific leadership development that meets PIF members’ objectives for inclusive Pacific leadership rooted in Pacific values while being adaptive to modern challenges.
- Advancing the Implementation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent: USAID intends to partner with the PIF Secretariat to strengthen the participation of critical Pacific Non-State Actors (NSAs) in regional policy engagement and implementation to deliver sustainable development outcomes. Assistance focuses on engaging NSAs in the implementation plan for the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and enhancing NSA engagement at annual ministerial dialogues in the Pacific.
- Signing Agreements Related to the Compacts of Free Association: The Compacts of Free Association with the U.S. Freely Associated States have formed a bedrock of U.S.-Pacific cooperation for nearly four decades. We remain deeply committed to these partnerships. In May we signed Compact-related economic assistance agreements with the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, and in October, we signed Compact-related economic assistance agreements with the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The Administration is working with Congress on the necessary authorities and appropriations to bring these agreements into force and implement and fund them.
- Opening U.S. Embassy Port Vila: The Biden-Harris Administration is opening new embassies across the Pacific in recognition that that our close partnership with the Pacific requires regular exchange between our governments at all levels. We intend to open an embassy in Vanuatu in 2024, having completed Congressional notification procedures this year. This builds on our opening of new embassies in Solomon Islands and Tonga earlier this year.
- Returning the Peace Corps: Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn joined the U.S. delegation to the PIF to highlight Peace Corps’ ongoing work in the Pacific. Peace Corps volunteers have returned to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, and will likely return in 2024 to Vanuatu. Peace Corps will also expand the Blue Pacific Youth Initiative, announced at the US-PIF Summit in September, to support young leaders working on environmental climate resilience issues.
- Expanding Development Assistance Eligibility for Cook Islands and Niue: Following the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Cooks Islands and Niue, both countries may now benefit independently from a broader range of future U.S. foreign assistance programming. This expanded eligibility builds on the disaster risk reduction and resilience assistance both countries currently receive through the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.
- Expanding our Public Health Diplomatic and Program Engagement to Strengthen Global Health Security: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is opening a new regional office for East Asia and the Pacific, which seeks to improve public health capacity in the Pacific Islands to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats. This builds on the U.S. Government’s investments to strengthen global health security in the region, including more than $1.2 million in FY22 for the Freely Associated States through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program; and $5.0 million of new global health security funding for Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and regional activities. Through our support, the U.S. Government provides remote and in-country partnerships to improve health security. As we continue to build back from the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Government provides funding for a One Health workforce (public and animal health sectors), regional laboratory capacity, data modernization, and implementation of public health programs, including immunizations; and One Health Rapid Response Team framework that will guide human, animal and environmental-related coordination, collaboration and communication before, during and after an emergency across the region.
Tackling the Climate Crisis
The United States recognizes the importance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, accelerating the clean energy transition, and helping Pacific Islands adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change. We are responding directly to Pacific priorities, including through our May 2023 commitment 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) to support adaptation and resilience at the local level in the Pacific Islands.
- Reaffirming U.S. Position on Statehood and Sea-level Rise: For some States, particularly low-lying island States in the Pacific Ocean, increasing sea levels pose an existential threat. At the U.S.-PIF Summit in September, the President announced that the United States considers that sea-level rise driven by human-induced climate change should not cause any country to lose its statehood or its membership in the United Nations, its specialized agencies, or other international organizations. The United States is committed to working with the Pacific Islands and others on issues relating to human-induced sea-level rise and statehood to advance these objectives. We call on all countries to support this policy position by COP28.
- Building Early Warning Systems (EWS) for All and Data for Resilience: As announced at the U.S.-PIF Summit, the United States intends to provide $8 million, subject to Congressional notification and the completion of domestic procedures, to expand our Information Services for Resilience Initiative announced last September. The United States is supportive of the Pacific-led Weather-Ready Pacific, a priority identified by PIF leaders under the Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is supporting projects in the region that complement activities identified in Weather-Ready Pacific. This includes projects focused on capacity building and training for National Meteorological and Hydrological Services as they develop and build their multi-hazard early warning systems.
- Promoting Pacific Women’s and Girls’ Climate and Clean Energy Leadership: Around the world and in the Pacific, women and girls are on the frontlines of both climate impacts and solutions. In October, we launched a new $1.5 million initiative to support implementation of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Pacific Energy and Gender Strategic Action Plan (PEGSAP). PEGSAP seeks to promote women’s climate and clean energy leadership and economic security by increasing career and income-generating opportunities for women and girls in 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories through pilot projects to promote women-owned businesses in the sale, distribution, and maintenance of renewable energy systems, and scholarships for women and girls to pursue studies in relevant science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
- Supporting a New Legally Binding Instrument on Plastic Pollution: As part of the Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity, PIF leaders have called for an international legally binding instrument to address plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The United States continues to seek an ambitious and inclusive international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution that will have universal membership, including every country that is a major producer and consumer of plastic. The United States is also committed to working to prevent, reduce and remove marine debris in the Pacific, including through programs like NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, which offers competitive grant opportunities, including to the U.S. Freely Associated States and U.S. Territories. USAID’s Save our Seas Initiative is addressing marine plastic pollution in the Pacific by strengthening solid waste management systems and creating inclusive circular economies through the Clean Cities, Blue Ocean program.
Investing in Trade Ties and Economic Development
The United States is committed to supporting our Pacific Island neighbors’ economic resilience through enhancing trade and investment, supporting enabling business environments, and expanding access to finance for development.
- Publication of the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) Study on Impediments to Increased Trade Flows with the Pacific Islands: On October 30, the USITC released a report on U.S. trade and investment with the Pacific Islands. The report, U.S.-Pacific Islands Trade and Investment: Impediments and Opportunities, was requested by the U.S. Trade Representative in a letter received on September 29, 2022. The report provides an overview of the Pacific Island economies, descriptions of trends in goods and services exports to the United States and investment from the United States, as well as analysis on the use and utilization of the Generalized System of Preferences and the trade preferences provided to the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States. In addition, the report identifies and profiles several sectors as having potential for increased export to or investment from the United States. The study is available here.
- Supporting Access to Finance for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses: Following the September U.S.-PIF Summit, the Development Finance Corporation, and USAID have issued an Expression of Interest (EOI) for their planned, up to $50 million, flexible Microfinance Facility to expand access to finance for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the Pacific Islands, with an emphasis on climate resilience and adaptation-focused enterprises, as well as women-owned enterprises.
- Expanding Access to Financial Services: In October, the United States and Australia announced a new Pacific Banking Forum, in consultation with Pacific Island countries, to bring together our public and private sectors to address the causes of de-risking. We affirm our plan to provide new and additional technical assistance to improve the region’s access to financial services. We further intend to work with the Pacific to address the costs and accessibility of correspondent banking relationships, including by addressing jurisdiction-specific challenges and exploring regional approaches to aggregate payment flows, as appropriate.
- With the launch of the Pacific Banking Forum and in conjunction with Fiji’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy, we welcome MasterCard’s focus on financial inclusion in launching (i) M-PAiSA Mastercard, a digital payments app that will give hundreds of thousands of Fijians access to digital payments through Mastercard’s global payment network, and (ii) Dua Pay, a mobile phone application that enables the women-run SMEs of Fiji to accept contactless digital payments on their own smartphones.
- Next Trade and Investment Dialogue: Following the successful first-ever meeting of the U.S.-Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Dialogue in February 2023, the United States and the Pacific Islands Forum plan to convene the Trade and Investment Dialogue in-person in early 2024. Established as an outcome of the 2022 U.S.-Pacific Islands Summit, the U.S.-Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Dialogue serves as a forum to discuss ways to increase trade flows and investment between the United States and the Pacific Islands.
Building Resilient and Secure Infrastructure
The United States is committed to helping Pacific Islands build resilient and secure infrastructure to promote their economic development and withstand natural and manmade threats including natural disasters, climate change, and cybercrime, including through our membership at the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility.
- Enhancing Digital Connectivity: As announced in October, as part of our Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the United States is engaging with Google to scale a series of significant private-sector consortium investments in subsea cables to provide the expansion of sustainable and reliable internet infrastructure to Pacific Island Countries. In consultation with our Pacific Island counterparts, Australia and the United States intend to work together to support connection by Pacific Islands to international commercial subsea cable systems under development. Together our countries plan to invest a total of $65 million in support of enhancing secure, resilient connectivity in the Pacific Islands by working with Google, APTelecom, and Hawaiki Nui to provide branching units for the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
- Working with Congress, the United States, under the State Department’s Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership (DCCP), intends to support expanding access to fast, secure, interoperable, and reliable internet connectivity in Pacific Island countries by increasing the initial $3 million allocation to $5 million, followed by an additional $10 million in subsequent years to support Google’s South Pacific Connect subsea cable initiative. This $15 million supports the initial investment of up to $3 million announced by the United States in September for a USTDA feasibility study for the proposed Central Pacific Cable led by APTelecom.
- Enabling Cyber Resilience: Following the inaugural Pacific Cybersecurity Capacity and Coordination Conference (P4C) in October, the United States will continue regular, enduring engagement with the PIF and its members on cybersecurity and intends to partner with U.S. private-sector companies on technical assistance opportunities. The United States has committed to supporting subsequent P4Cs together with the other Partners in the Blue Pacific. Together, the United States and Australia announced in October an intent to engage Pacific Island nations and the private sector to explore developing and deploying a pilot initiative in the region to increase national cyber resilience. This pilot initiative could help protect and back up government data by upgrading data services, including through implementation of cloud-based solutions to store government records. The United States is also partnering with several U.S. private sector companies to support the region’s cyber resilience, including through these proposed initiatives to be developed in consultation with the PIF:
- Following the announcement of new Pacific subsea cables, Google.org will contribute $500,000 for digital skills training in the region.
- Palo Alto Networks has committed to host a “Pacific Island Cyber Preparedness Series.” This program represents the inaugural phase of a comprehensive cybersecurity improvement initiative for the region, laying the foundation for ongoing discussions and progress. Pacific participants will gain a high-level understanding of cybersecurity issues and imperatives, effective approaches to manage cyber risk, the global cyber threat environment as well as key considerations and actions to take when preparing for a cyber incident.
- As part of Fortinet’s global commitment to offer free cybersecurity training to one million individuals, Fortinet will expand its focus on nations in the Pacific Islands to grow utilization of its Academy and Security Awareness programs to support a more digitally aware community in coordination with the Pacific Islands Forum
- Supporting Natural Disaster Response and Climate Adaptation and Resilience for Aviation: This February 2024 workshop, to be held under the auspices of the U.S.-Southeast Asia and Pacific Aviation Cooperation Program (ACP), will provide capacity building to Pacific Island aviation authorities and airports to help them respond to natural disasters and implement climate adaptation and resilience measures. U.S. Trade and Development Agency and Federal Aviation Administration will cohost this workshop in Fiji to connect Pacific Island aviation partners with U.S. government, industry, and international aviation experts to discuss lessons learned, strategies, and adaptation efforts related to natural disaster response and ensuring the resilience of airports in the face of climate change challenges, including sea level rise.
Supporting Peace and Security
The United States is committed to ensuring the Blue Pacific Continent remains a place of peace and prosperity for all Pacific people, including women and other marginalized groups.
- Partnering with New Zealand to Improve Access to Justice for Women and Children: The United States has partnered with New Zealand through its Pacific Justice Sector Programme to launch Ina’ilau to improve access to justice for women and children in the Pacific. This project reflects the values outlined in the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration and the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent to embrace good governance and observe democratic principles, including rule of law, the defense and promotion of all human rights, gender equality, and commitment to just societies. Ina’ilau supports these values by building the capacity of formal and community-based Pacific justice sector actors to address and support the rights of women and children effectively and sustainably, and empower women in Pacific Justice sectors through professional development opportunities to encourage their increased presence in judicial leadership roles.
- Building USCG Centers of Excellence on Marine Pollution and IUU Fishing: On October 11, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Environmental Response Regional Activities Center (MER RAC) and the Illegal Unreported Unregulated Fisheries Center of Expertise (IUU-F COE) were established on Ford Island, Hawaii. The mission of the MER RAC is to assist partner Indo-Pacific nations, including the Pacific Islands, with developing and maintaining national-level response frameworks, capabilities, and expertise to respond to marine pollution events and with the implementation of international conventions regarding marine pollution. The IUUF-COE mission is to serve as an international engagement team to facilitate partner nation capabilities for combatting IUU-F. The engagement team helps combat IUU-F by increasing maritime domain awareness, exchanging information, increasing interoperability, and sharing best practices among regional partners.
Enhancing Our Longstanding People-to-People Ties
We are committed to continuing to expand our people-to-people ties with the Pacific Islands through delivering on past Summit commitments and building exciting new initiatives, such as the 7 for 70 campaign launched in September to establish at least seven sister cities partnerships with other Pacific Islands by 2026 in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of Sister Cities International. We also look forward to expanding cultural ties through supporting 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.
- Johns Hopkins SAIS U.S.-Pacific Institute for Rising Leaders: In October, the U.S.–Pacific Institute for Rising Leaders Fellowship, announced by the White House at the first-ever U.S.–Pacific Island Country Summit in September 2022, brought 29 mid-career leaders from 16 Pacific Island countries and territories to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington for a four-week leadership development program focused on maritime issues, climate adaptation, and public health.
- Resilience and Adaptation Fellowship for Rising Pacific Leaders: In October, the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science (OES) announced a $5 million grant to the University of the South Pacific (USP) to establish a new Resilience and Adaptation Fellowship for Rising Pacific Leaders, which will train the next generation of Pacific climate leaders in partnership with premier U.S. universities. The program will send Pacific young professionals to U.S. institutions that are leaders on a host of climate-related issues, such as natural resource economics and management, resilient food systems, renewable energy development, water security and waste management. It will also bring U.S. experts to USP to build its capacity and programming in these areas.
- Advancing Youth Diplomacy through Rugby: Midshipmen from the United States Naval Academy Rugby team will travel to Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga in May 2024 for rugby exhibition matches and youth empowerment programming.
- Asia-Pacific Cultural Heritage Professionals Exchange: The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Cultural Heritage Center, in collaboration with the National Park Service, launched a new, two-year exchange program for cultural heritage specialists from Asia-Pacific countries, focusing on Pacific Island countries. Participants will be selected from Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and other Pacific nations. This first-of-its-kind exchange will build capacity to preserve and promote national and community identity, create a network of museum professionals across the region, and strengthen ties with counterparts from the United States. Participants will 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 Asia-Pacific countries. Participants will also engage with Indigenous knowledge and how it intersects with museum practices, while building their capacity to preserve and share historically accurate information and narratives about their diverse cultures. The program is expected to launch with the first in-person workshop in Summer 2024, with virtual activities for the participants prior to the in-person workshop.