A talanoa session expected to be held later this year would see Pacific Island Forum leaders coming together in a collective position on seabed mining.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, the Pacific Islands Forum outgoing chair, told the media in May that one of the outcomes of the Leaders meeting in Rarotonga last year on the issue was a “talanoa” (a Pacific discussion process) with all Forum member countries.

The discussion will aim to address the concerns of countries that have a stand against any activity in the seabed, but also to hear from those countries like the Cook Islands and others who have a vested interest in seabed “minerals”.

Brown said that the talanoa is expected to take place in the second half of this year.

“And from that, we hope to have countries to have a better understanding of each other’s positions so that we can have a collective position as a Forum,” Brown said.

“It may not be a unified position, but certainly it will be a collective one which addresses concerns raised by member countries around ocean protection. It also addresses concerns raised by other member countries about the need to lift the prosperity levels of their countries as we emerge from Covid, but also, more importantly, to play a role in the supply chain of critical metals needed for the green transition to be able to move away from fossil fuel and move more towards renewable energy.

“I think through this talanoa session that the Forum will be hosting, we should be able to get a much clearer specific position on seabed minerals.”

Henry Puna, the former Pacific Islands Forum secretary general, said each country has a sovereign right to determine its position on the issue.

Puna said there have been differences of views within the Forum on that particular issue, and these differences are respected.

For the Cook Islands, he said the seabed minerals are exclusively within its EEZ.

“We’re not talking about out in the high seas, where the seabed authority in Jamaica has jurisdiction. We have absolute jurisdiction over our home waters so our situation is different. And I think if we follow through with the respect for sovereignty, then the Cook Islands is on safe ground.”

Puna said PM Brown recently stressed at the Ocean Conference in Athens that the Cook Islands have frameworks in place to ensure the safety of the environment, the conservation and sustainability of the environment “if what they are proposing to do, does take place”.

“So it’s not a free-for-all. We have mechanisms and frameworks in place to ensure that the environment is taken care of in those circumstances,” Puna said.