U.S., Federated States Of Micronesia, Marshall Islands Compact Of Free Association Negotiations Stalled
by Susan Roth
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Pacific Daily News/Gannett News Service): July 19, 2002 - Concerns about funding and immigration continue to dog negotiations on the Compacts of Free Association, officials from the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands told Congress Wednesday.
FSM and Marshall Islands compact negotiators told members of the House Resources Committee they feel the United States has negotiated in good faith over financing for economic development.
"But significant challenges remain to be overcome," Peter Christian, the FSM's chief negotiator, said at the oversight hearing. "While the gap has narrowed considerably, with concessions on both sides, we've not been able to agree to the U.S. offer."
The compacts the United States signed with the two countries in 1986 recognize their independence, provide them with critical economic development aid and allow their people to immigrate freely to the United States.
Negotiating time on new compacts is running out. U.S. payments under the current compacts to the tiny Pacific countries end Oct. 1, 2003, but Guam Delegate Robert Underwood said new agreements must be approved by Congress before it adjourns this fall. That's because budgeting for fiscal 2004 will begin later this year.
Unless the compacts are approved by then, there is a real possibility Congress could cut off aid to the FSM and Marshalls governments.
Albert Short, the State Department's chief compact negotiator, told the committee that "in the wake of September 11, we want to change some migration parts of the compacts."
The right to migrate is part of the compact and is not one of the areas up for negotiation, said Underwood, who is a candidate for governor.
Short said the compacts will continue to provide islanders with visa-free entry to the United States, but the United States wants to review "certain aspects" of the arrangement, including current technology for passports.
Underwood expressed support for the compacts but urged Congress to review the migration issue and aid for its social impact in Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawai'i.
He said those islands feel frustrated by having to fight for money from the Office of Insular Affairs budget at the Interior Department, "particularly since OIA's budget is small to begin with." The federal departments of Education and Health and Human Services also should provide money, Underwood said. Short agreed, as did David Cohen, the new deputy assistant secretary for insular affairs, who visited Guam earlier this month.