US House OKs bill to expand America's engagement in Pacific islands region
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed of a bill that would beef up the United States’ security presence and economic investments in the Pacific island region to counter China’s growing footprint.
The bill, titled “Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence inTechnology and Economic Strength” or COMPETES Act, includes a provision that seeks to strengthen the U.S.’s diplomatic ties with Pacific island nations.
“This measure will greatly strengthen both our economic and national security, especially as we tackle the growing challenges posed by China throughout our Indo-Pacific,” said Congressman Ed Case (HI-01), one of the bill’s main authors.
“I especially worked with colleagues to include in the COMPETES Act much of the BoostingLong-Term U.S. Engagement in the Pacific (Blue Pacific) Act, a bill I introduced in 2019 to re-establish a long-term, comprehensive strategy for U.S engagement in the critical Pacific Islands region,” Case said.
The Blue Pacific Act provisions in the COMPETES Act include the following:
Expanded U.S. diplomatic and development presence in the Pacific Islands
Improved coordination of U.S. engagement, including security and development assistance, through a formal consultative process with regional partners, allies and multilateral institutions;
Requiring U.S. agencies to devise and implement a strategy to invest in climate-resilient development projects, including by using the U.S. voice and vote at international financial institutions, and authorize $50 million per year for the next five years for this purpose;
· Expanded coverage of the International Law Enforcement Academies program to the PacificIslands;
Development of a comprehensive strategy for U.S. security assistance to the Pacific Islands to enhance maritime security, address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, tackle transnational crimes like human and drug trafficking and more;
Increased U.S. efforts to assist the Pacific Islands in addressing transnational crime through ratification and implementation of international legal instruments and enhanced action on illegal forestry and logging;
Implementing an emergency preparedness initiative for the Pacific Islands through education and training programs, technical assistance and more, supported by authorization of $40 million per year for the next five years; and
Expanded Peace Corps presence in the Pacific Islands.
The House also approved the following floor amendments to the COMPETES Act to:
Order a comprehensive study into offshore aquaculture including the environmental impact, and an assessment on the impact of international offshore aquaculture industries on the U.S. seafood market.
Direct the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of the Interior and in consultation with other relevant federal departments and agencies, to report on international indigenous engagement, to include Native American representation and participation in international organizations dedicated to indigenous communities.
Establish a program for the professional development of young adult leaders and professionals in the Pacific Islands similar to the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.
The House also adopted the following floor amendments:
Express a Sense of Congress that it is in the national interest for the United States to become a formal signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea;
Add the text of the critical infrastructure Manufacturing Feasibility Act to the bill, which orders a study on the feasibility of manufacturing more goods in the United States, in particular, products that are key to our critical infrastructure
Create a Congressionally charted commission to make recommendations to Congress on how best to maintain and bolster U.S.supply chains.
Direct the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to publish an annual report to promote evidence-based policies and controls that small entities (i.e., small businesses, nonprofits and local governments) may employ to improve cybersecurity; and require a Commerce Department annual report on barriers small entities face in implementing cybersecurity policies and controls.
The bill also includes the reauthorization of the $58.5 million Coral Reef Conservation Program, prohibiting the domestic sale of shark fins, improving laws to control illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on the high seas, and phasing out large-scale driftnet fishing in the U.S. exclusive economic zone.