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COFA agreements officially commence

Updated: Mar 11



By Pacific Island Times News Staff


President Joe Biden today signed into law a bill renewing the economic provisions for three allied Pacific island countries under the Compacts of Free Association, culminating years of difficult negotiations.


Under the agreements, Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia would receive $7.1 billion in U.S. funding assistance in 20 years.

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State


"The department welcomes the enactment of legislation providing approval and funding to bring into force new assistance agreements under the Compacts of Free Association," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.


The enactment of the COFA legislation was preceded by several warnings from military leaders and regional experts that failure to seal the agreements would further open up new opportunities for China to increase its influence in the region.



The COFA Amendment bill's passage "serves as another milestone in our relationships with the freely associated states," Blinken said.


He added that Washington's "uniquely close relationships" with the freely associated states have been an anchor of U.S. engagement in the Pacific for decades. 


"Extending Compact-related assistance is a critical component of the Administration’s Pacific Partnership, Indo-Pacific and National Security Strategies.  We look forward to working with our partners in the freely associated states over the next two decades of COFA-related cooperation," Blinken said..

 

The three Pacific island nations are considered part of homeland security strategies. The compacts provide the U.S. military exclusive defense rights to Palau, the FSM and the Marshall Islands.


"The 20-year duration and commitment of $7.1 billion of mandatory funding is reflective of our steadfast commitment to these strategically important partners.  We appreciate the continued strong bipartisan support for COFA in Congress," Blinken said.


FSM President Simina Wesley said the renewal of economic assistance "officially opens an important next chapter in our enduring partnership with the United States."


"As many of you know, the path to this day has been longer than expected and a challenging road that raised concerns about if and when the updated combat agreements would enter into force," Wesley said in a special video message to his constituents.

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He said delays in congressional action on triggered "absurd doubt and uncertainty."


"At the end of the day, the FSM and the U.S. reached an agreement on an outcome that I am confident will benefit both our nations and contribute to greater peace and prosperity for our peoples and to greater security and stability for the Indo-Pacific region and the world. You will recall the Compact first came into effect in 1986," Wesley said.


For Palau, COFA is guaranteed $889 million over two decades.


"Included in the legislation are provisions for Palauan citizens to pursue higher education at in-state tuition rates anywhere in the United States, eligibility for services of the National Health Service Corps, the Legal Services Corporation, and the Rural Housing Service, and authorization to the Veterans Affairs to provide hospital care and medical services to veterans in Palau," states the U.S. Embassy in Koror.


In a statement before the bill's signing, Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, American Samoa's delegate to Congress, said the COFA agreements "send a clear message of U.S. commitment to the Pacific region, and take a much-needed international strong stand for the ideals of democracy and freedom.”


Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii said the compacts are central not only to the U.S.'s longstanding relationships with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the FSM, but to America's standing in the broader Pacific.


“Standing by our Indo-Pacific allies is imperative to bolster U.S. leadership and counter growing aggression by the Chinese Communist Party. The Compacts of Free Association agreements between the U.S., Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands are essential to projecting strength in the region,” said Rep. Young Kim of California.





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