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COFA renewal bill sweeps through Natural Resources committee



By Mar-Vic Cagurangan


The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources today greenlighted the Compact of Free Association Amendments Act of 2023 following a full committee markup.


H.J. Res. 96, which was introduced last week and is now headed to the congressional floor, would codify the U.S. government's new agreements with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands under their respective compacts.


The White House has pledged $7.1 billion in new economic packages for the three freely associated states for the next 20 years.


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"America's commitment to our allies in the Pacific is steadfast and unwavering. Chinese aggression and their malign influence in the region will not be tolerated by the U.S., and our work today on the Compacts of Free Association is a crucial step in cementing the special relationship we have with the freely associated states," Rep. Bruce Westerman, committee chairman, said after reporting the bill.


If enacted, the new compact provisions would run from fiscal 2024 through FY 2043.


"This is an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue, and I hope to continue conversations with the Senate and the White House to find agreement on an appropriate offset for the increased funding," said Westerman, the main author of H.J. Res. 96.


In August, Westerman's committee held a field congressional hearing on Guam, where FAS and territorial leaders testified on China's claws hovering over their communities and seeking to take advantage of their vulnerable economies.


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Westerman said he "saw firsthand the imminent threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to their security and economic stability. Today, we continue our commitment to our friends in the region and make it clear we will not back down in the face of Chinese brinkmanship."


Under the COFA agreements, the U.S. has the sole and unfettered military access to the lands, waters and airspace of the FAS in exchange for economic assistance in grants and contributions to accountable trust funds, access to certain U.S. federal programs for COFA citizens and the ability for COFA citizens to live and work in the U.S.


The COFA Amendments Act of 2023 would also strengthen oversight and accountability measures for U.S. implementation and management of the COFA economic provisions.


The compact's economic provisions for the FSM and the Marshall Islands expired on Sept. 30. Pending compact renewal, both nations continue to receive funding assistance and service through a stopgap measure that will expire this month.


Palau, whose economic provisions are set to expire next year, continues to receive economic assistance under the current cycle.


“Because current continuing resolution funding levels are not sustainable, approving compact renewal agreements is a giant step to continue a seven-decade regional security partnership under the compact that China’s government actively tried to disrupt in 2018 through 2020," said Rep. Uifa’atali Amata Radewagen, American Samoa's delegate.


“The people of America and our allies in the region and around the world will be served well by the $7.1 billion 20-year terms for COFA renewal that will strengthen our partnership with our closest allies in the Pacific," she added.




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