25 September 2022
Government of the Cook Islands
Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki - Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration
The Cook Islands to attend inaugural U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit, 28-29 September, Washington DC
Prime Minister the Hon. Mark Brown has accepted an invitation from United States President Joseph Biden to attend the inaugural United States-Pacific Island Country Summit to convene in Washington D.C. from 28-29 September. The invitation comes after months of high-level engagements between Cook Islands and U.S. officials, the most recent during the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders Meetings held in Honolulu a week ago. The Cook Islands Government hold high hopes the Washington Summit this week will culminate in official and full recognition by the U.S. of Cook Islands sovereignty.
“Full participation by Prime Minister Brown in this inaugural U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit is testament to many hours of dialogue between diplomats of both governments over many years but particularly over the last couple of months,” said Tepaeru Herrmann, Cook Islands Special Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum and Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration. “Much of that dialogue has focused on sensitizing current U.S. officials to the Cook Islands voyage to statehood and what is in fact well over four decades of bilateral and regional co-operation between the Cook Islands and the U.S. The Cook Islands contributions to the advancement of Pacific regionalism and the leadership role it has performed at various times over the decades, including as incoming Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum have been registered”.
The Treaty between the U.S.A. and the Cook Islands on Friendship and Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between the U.S.A. and the Cook Islands (“Treaty of Friendship”) was signed in Rarotonga in June 1980. The Friendship Treaty, ratified by US President Ronald Reagan in August 1983 upon the advice and consent of the Senate, was duly ratified by Cook Islands Prime Minister Sir Tom Davis following Executive Council consent. Apart from establishing shared Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary with the U.S. in respect of American Samoa, the Treaty of Friendship contains two important articles – U.S. recognition of Cook Islands sovereignty over the islands of Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Manihiki and Rakahanga (previously, the U.S. maintained a claim over these islands); and a commitment by the two governments to cooperate to promote social and economic development in the Cook Islands and to work towards the advancement of the South Pacific region as a whole.
The U.S. Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries (“US Fisheries Treaty”) represents an ongoing agreement between the U.S. and 16 Pacific Islands Countries including the Cook Islands. The US Fisheries Treaty allows for U.S. purse seine vessels to fish in the EEZs of PICs party to the Treaty. The US Treaty entered into force in 1988, was extended in 1993, again in 2002. In 2016 the parties agreed to a revised and updated treaty that modernized the way that U.S. fishing vessels secure access to the productive tuna fishing waters of the treaty nations. The US treaty is viewed as a model of international and fishery cooperation and has helped establish fisheries observer and data reporting requirements, as well as monitoring, control and surveillance standards for the region’s fisheries, all of which are vital to deterring illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. During this year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting held in July in Suva, U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris confirmed the US government would be seeking Congressional approval to increase its contribution from the current USD21million per annum to USD60million per annum, for the coming
ten-year period up to 2023. The increase will be welcome additions to the national budgets of the Cook Islands and other PIC Parties to the treaty as they continue to grapple with the unprecedented economic disruption wreaked by COVID.
The two governments have also worked collaboratively for a number of decades in the Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC – often referred to as the “Tuna Commission”) – initially through the Multilateral High Level Conference (MHLC) negotiations which commenced in 1994 that culminated in the establishment of the Tuna Commission in 2004 to manage the highly migratory fish socks of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. During this time, the Cook Islands worked with the U.S. and others to agree and establish the first special management area of the WCPPC: the Eastern High Seas Pocket (E-HSP an area of international waters between French Polynesia, Kiribati and the Cook Islands) which allowed the three adjacent countries/territory to effectively manage and minimize IUU fishing activities operating out of this area. The Cook Islands supported the efforts of the U.S. to secure and protect its fisheries interests in its territories as well as the domestic fisheries industry in the State of Hawaii. In particular, the Cook Islands actively supported the ongoing efforts to support and maintain the tuna canneries and related commercial activities located in American Samoa. The shared fisheries interests of the two governments culminated in the establishment of a Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources field office based at Pago Pago which was used to conduct fisheries inspections and place observes onboard licensed Cook Islands vessels.
In addition to the E-HSP which allowed the Cook islands to monitor and track fishing vessels in this area of high seas using satellite tracking technology, the U.S. and the Cook Islands worked closely together on improving maritime surveillance, most notably with the conclusion of an agreement between the two governments in 2008. This agreement, known as the ‘Shiprider Agreement’ allows for up to two Cook Islands fisheries officers to be placed onboard US Coast Guard vessels or aircraft operating in support of maritime surveillance operations. It also empowers the Commander and crew of a US Coast Guard vessel to stop, inspect and/or detain any fishing vessels suspected of conducting IUU fishing activities.
More recently, the Cook Islands has worked actively with the U.S. assisting in investigations related to the trafficking of narcotics and in upholding of U.S. and United Nations Sanctions. Earlier this year, this involved the investigation and subsequent seizure of a Cook Islands flagged vessel “Tango” belonging to a Russian Oligarch who was the subject of U.S. sanctions. In a quote from a joint release by the two governments earlier this year, the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand said “The U.S.-Cook Islands partnership in this case is not only a testament to the strength of our long history and relationship, but also to the international community’s commitment to making Putin’s heinous and unjustified invasion of the Ukraine a long-term strategic failure. We thank the Cook Islands government for its absolute support and the decisive action taken to ensure the seizure was able to take place.”
Most recently, Cook Islands government bilateral engagements with the U.S. have focused on improving the Cook Islands air connectivity with the U.S. and inwards investment in the sustainable development of the Cook Islands deep sea minerals. Two of the three licensed companies for exploration of the Cook Islands DSM resources have U.S. investment.
“Off the back of months sustained high level engagements with U.S. officials, this direct engagement opportunity between Prime Minister Brown and President Biden during this week’s Summit in Washington is our best opportunity yet to elevate and expand bilateral co-operation with the U.S.,” said Secretary Herrmann. “There exists a solid foundation of successful oceans co-operation which we’ve built with the U.S. over decades – through bilateral and regional engagement. A commitment between Prime Minister Brown and President Biden to formalizing diplomatic relations would immediately open a plethora of further growth opportunities in maritime security, fisheries, deep sea minerals, tourism, trade, health, education as well as collaboration in the multilateral sphere. It would also ensure the Cook Islands, on its assumption of the PIF Chair role later this year, could fully engage with the U.S. who is a dialogue partner of the PIF, to work collaboratively on supporting the region’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.”
1 & 2: 13 September 2022, East-West Centre, Honolulu, United States - Bilateral meeting between Cook Islands Special Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum and Secretary MFAI Tepaeru Hermann and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State (SoS) Wendy Shirman in the margins of the 12th Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders (PICL) Meeting held 12-14 September.
3: 8 August 2022, Wellington, New Zealand – Roundtable Talanoa Discussion between U.S. Deputy SoS Shirman and Pacific Islands Head of Missions including Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand HE Elizabeth Wright-Koteka
4: 12 July 2022, Suva, Fiji – Special Forum Fisheries Ministerial Meeting - U.S. Head of Delegation (HoD) Assistant SoS for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Monica Media and Cook Islands HoD Special Envoy Herrmann
5: 13 July 2022, Suva, Fiji – Engagement between U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Pacific Islands Forum Leaders - Cook Islands HoD Special Envoy Herrmann