The Cook Islands, through Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Tingika Elikana, has called on the United States to formalize a high-level dialogue mechanism with the Pacific if it commits to deepening their engagement with the Pacific.
The call was made during a roundtable last Friday co-hosted by Acting Prime Minister and Attorney General of Fiji, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, and US Secretary of State (SoS), Antony J. Blinken, on the sidelines of SoS Blinken’s visit to Fiji.
The roundtable included a number of Pacific leaders, many of whom called for greater U.S. engagement in the region, including on climate change, economic resilience, ocean cooperation and regional integration.
Elikana offered three suggestions that could support deeper engagement between the region and the United States and build economic resilience in the Blue Pacific. These included a large-scale, multi-year economic stimulus program for the Pacific funded by Pacific development partners, including the United States, to aid recovery from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; an expanded program of ocean cooperation between the United States and the Pacific; and the formalization of a high-level dialogue mechanism between the United States and the Pacific, similar to that of Japan’s triennial Pacific Island Leaders Meeting (PALM).
The Cook Islands’ various ocean-related cooperation agreements with the United States, including the United States-Pacific Multilateral Fisheries Treaty, are a cornerstone of their relationship with the United States.
There is a proud history of close bilateral cooperation in fisheries and maritime surveillance and enforcement between the two governments operating under the 2008 Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Islands Cook regarding cooperation in joint maritime surveillance operations’.
According to Marine Resources Secretary Pamela Maru, the 2008 agreement “has provided a valuable platform for many activities over the years in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone, and training opportunities for Cook Islands officers. with the U.S. Coast Guard in bilateral and regional operations throughout the region.”
More recently, the US Coast Guard Cutter Juniper has been patrolling the Cook Islands EEZ and the high seas to help deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.