By Pita Ligaiula

U.S Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday she will request U.S Congress for US$600 million in funding for economic development, ocean resilience and combat the scourge of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the Pacific region.

Harris made the announcement when she participated virtually in the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting, hosted by Forum chair and Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

“Today, I am also pleased to announce that we plan to triple U.S funding for economic development and ocean resilience for the Pacific Islands.

“We will request from the United States Congress an increase from US$21 million per year to US$60 million per year for the next 10 years. Sixty million dollars per year for the next 10 years.

“These funds will help strengthen climate resilience; invest in marine planning and conservation; and combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and enhance maritime security,” Harris told Pacific leaders.

Harris also said that the United States is looking forward to conclude negotiation on the Tuna treaty with the Pacific.

“I heard you speak of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. Regarding that treaty, we do believe it is a cornerstone of our political and economic cooperation, and we look forward to concluding negotiations.

“We will also continue our leadership combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, because we know that it devastates fisheries and coastal states like yours.

“We also want to build on our existing work together with regard to food security, with regard to maritime security, education, and disaster relief.

All of this work together presents an extensive agenda, but each of these issues is incredibly important to this region and to the United States,” she said.

Harris said the U.S consider their relationship with the Pacific to be a true partnership and a friendship based on mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual benefit.

“We will engage transparently and constructively, which means we will listen, collaborate, and coordinate at every step of the way. We will also work to empower a strong and united Pacific Islands Forum, which will strengthen your voice on the world stage as we continue to work together,” the Vice President said.

She said U.S and allies established the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP), which is a coordination mechanism that is aimed to support priorities in the region.

“We will also better coordinate our efforts with allies and partners. And to do that end, we recently launched the Partners in the Blue Pacific, which includes Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and, of course, the United States,” she said.

The U.S said the actions aim to advance the Biden-Harris administration’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the U.S-Pacific Islands partnership.

“At a time when we see bad actors seeking to undermine the rules-based order, we must stand united.

“We must remind ourselves that upholding a system of laws, institutions, and common understandings — well, this is how we ensure stability and, indeed, prosperity around the world.

“We will continue to work with all of you, and all of our partners and allies, to craft new rules and norms for future frontiers grounded in our shared values of openness, transparency, and fairness.

“We recognise there is so much we can do together. We have a strong foundation. And we will build on this and embark on a new chapter, all in the spirit of partnership, friendship, and respect,” Harris told leaders and delegates.

Harris told Pacific Leaders the United States will launch the process to establish two new embassies in the region: one in Tonga and one in Kiribati.

“We will also appoint the first-ever United States Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum. We will return Peace Corps volunteers to the region. And USAID is taking steps to expand its footprint to include re-establishing a regional mission in Suva, Fiji.

All of these steps will enable us to increase our engagement, and develop and deliver concrete results,” she said.

Meanwhile, Fijian Prime Minister and Pacific Islands Forum chair, Voreqe Bainimarama has welcomed the announcement made by U.S Vice President in enhancing its support to the Pacific Islands.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The USA is a Pacific power that has every reason to be a closer Pacific partner to our people, especially on climate, oceans, and maritime security. Hope to host you in Fiji soon!” Bainimarama said on Twitter.