PH in talks with Pacific countries for deal on trade, fisheries

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/07 September) — The government has started informal negotiations with countries in the tuna-rich Pacific Islands in a bid to forge a regional cooperation deal on trade and fisheries.

Asis Perez, Department of Agriculture undersecretary for fisheries, said they have initiated talks with their counterparts in Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and the Solomon Islands for a possible regional partnership on fishing, investments and other related exchanges.

“We have continuing dialogues with these countries and we’re hoping that we can later agree on specific areas of cooperation,” he said.

Perez met with Minister Fleming Sengebau of Palau’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism here over the weekend to further explore the prospects of the potential regional cooperation.

Sengebau headed Palau’s delegation at the 17th National Tuna Congress that was hosted by the city.

Perez, who is also the national director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said it is only proper for the Philippines to pursue a regional cooperation with the Pacific Islands states due to its proximity to the area.

He said Filipinos are naturally connected with Pacific island citizens since “their culture is akin to ours.”

The official said their discussions are not only concentrated on fishing but various areas that would be mutually beneficial to the Philippines and the Pacific island countries.

Tuna industry players here had been urging the national government to forge fishing deals with countries in the Pacific Islands to address the dwindling tuna catches and supplies.

Such problem is mainly due to the limited access of local tuna fishing fleets to the Pacific seas and the depletion of fishery resources in the country’s fishing grounds.

But Perez noted that aside from fishing, the Philippines has other strengths that could contribute to the growing economies in the Pacific Islands.

For instance, Perez said the country could expand its reach in the Pacific Islands in terms of education and medical aspects.

“They have a lot of tuna but they also lack many things in terms of vital services that we can easily fill up. We can complement their weaknesses with our strengths and vice versa. That way, all involved countries and the people in the process would really benefit,” he said.

Perez said they will make sure that the proposed regional cooperation would not be one-sided and exploitative to ensure that it will be sustainable. (MindaNews)