Kiribati withdrawal clouds Blue Pacific, Suva agreements’ backing

Hailed as the ‘North Star’ the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent has been deemed the agreement that will solidify the regionalism that Pacific Island countries need to navigate existing and emerging challenges if leaders work together.

It is unclear at this stage if the agreement, the making of which spanned over nearly three years and is said to build on existing frameworks, will achieve the regionalism it aspires to in the wake of Kiribati President Taneti Maamau’s decision to withdraw from the Forum days before the leaders’ meet to deliberate and endorse the document.

So too is the fate of the Suva Agreement that is on the leaders’ agenda as well to be endorsed at the conclusion of their 51st meeting that starts today in Suva.

Drawn up last month and agreed to by a faction of the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit (MPS) that Kiribati is a party to, the Suva Agreement is said to address the Micronesian countries’ concerns over the appointment process of the Forum’s Secretary General’s position, setting out in black and white, for the first time, the unwritten gentlemen’s agreement to rotate the SG’s role by sub-region.

However, in a letter dated 9 July addressed to Forum Secretary-General Henry Puna, Kiribati President Maamau outlined reasons for their withdrawal, and chief among these was what they described as the reluctance by the Forum to address the MPS’ concerns that were highlighted in the Mekreos Communique and that “there was never a MPS caucus decision on the PIF reform packages that Kiribati was part of and MPS collective decision to return to the PIF.”

Signed in October 2020, the Mekreos Communique was a declaration by the presidents of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Palau in relation to the gentlemen’s agreement, insisting it was the Micronesian sub-region’s turn at the SG’s role. The deviation from this the following year in the appointment of Henry Puna to the SG’s role in early February 2021 prompted the MPS’ decision to initiate their withdrawal from the Forum. This was paused in February 2022, paving the way for the Suva Agreement discussions leading up to the Leaders’ meeting proper this week.

The secretariat and the leaders including the MPS remain mum over the latest development.

However, in the outcomes outlining the Forum Ministers’ collective decisions following their meeting last Friday 8 July at the secretariat in Suva, which was only made public last night, the ministers “noted the need to engage with the Government of Kiribati, including before the Leaders Retreat, and committed to pursuing every effort to acknowledge Kiribati and its upcoming independence celebrations and emphasising the strength of the Forum family.”

Meanwhile, as per the draft schedule, all of the Leaders’ deliberations will be held behind closed doors including the Pacific Group of the African Caribbean Pacific Leaders’ (PACP) meeting that starts today.

The Leaders’ meeting is expected to wrap up at 6 pm on Thursday 14 July, by which time the two agreements are anticipated to have been considered by the leaders.

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