Prime Minister Hon. Manasseh Sogavare received a US Government delegation on Sunday led by the Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman.
This visit builds on from earlier interactions Prime Minister Sogavare had with US including the visit by White House National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell the Foreign Minister’s engagements with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s announcement of US earlier this year.
Discussions centered around the ongoing SI-US development partnerships.
On US intent to reopen its Embassy in Honiara since the office was closed in 1993, Prime Minister Sogavare notes, the progress made with the establishment of US Embassy in Honiara after 29 years, a response to SIG’s call for a more meaningful engagement with the US.
The Prime Minister also welcome the appointment of a Charge de Affairs in Honiara to oversee operations and the bilateral relations in the interim until a substantive Head of Mission is appointed.
“A permanent US presence in the Solomon Islands will strengthen relations between the United States and Solomon Islands, and augurs well for the bilateral partnership going forward,” acknowledged the PM.
PM Sogavare expressed the country’s hope to see an Ambassador installed as the Head of Mission, in order to fully engage with the government on all development issues.
The Strengthening Competitiveness, Agriculture, Livelihoods and Environment (SCALE) Program, is an US Agency for International Development (USAID) supports programs that help communities adapt to the negative impacts of global climate change and supports disaster risk reduction programs to enhance local capacity for disaster response.
The USD$25 million SCALE programme currently focused on Malaita province is especially to promote and fund projects on land management of agriculture and forest lands, increasing economic benefits by promoting community based forest enterprises or alternative livelihood and strengthening linkages between communities and public sector stakeholders.
Appreciating the program, the Prime Minister expressed the need to diversify SCALE support, and increase projects nationally by expanding to other Provinces in the near future. Prime Minister Sogavare underlined, this project needs to be better aligned to the National Development Strategy (NDS 2016 – 2035).
Solomon Islands also benefit from US’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Threshold Program- an innovative and independent US foreign assistance agency designed to promote economic growth and fight against global poverty.
At the beginning of this year, MCC and the Government signed the MCC-SI THP, formalizing a partnership that aims to alleviate poverty and encourage sustainable development. The MCC-SI THP will address constraints through Accessing Land for Tourism Investment Facilitation (ALTIF) Project and the Forest Value Enhancement Project.
Prime Minister Sogavare Welcome the progress made with the MCC Threshold Programme roll out, since its signing in January this year adding, Solomon Islands would like to see diversification in support rendered to other critical areas of development such as infrastructure and energy projects to drive economic activities and productivity.
He said, a draft partnership framework for development cooperation with the United States was submitted to the United States Government for consideration and further discussion.
“Solomon Islands is keen to receive formal feedback from US Government on the proposal and have the desire to commence discussion on a Partnership Framework for Development Cooperation. The Framework is well intended and would serve to effectively manage and provide oversight to growing US/SI partnership and collaboration.
Discussed also during the meeting was the Peace Corps Program in the country. In 2019, almost 20 years after departing Solomon Islands, the Peace Corps announced it would re-establish operations in the country.
Both countries agree, negotiations on the draft Peace Corps Agreement continue and hope SI-US finalize the document for signing this year.
Prime Minister Sogavare reaffirm that his Government will work closely with the Peace Corps Office to conclude negotiations on the draft Peace Corps Agreement this year.
In terms of UXO clearance and removal, the US has provided more than $6.2 million since 1993 to remove explosive hazards and build local capacity. The US, working in partnership with Australia and nongovernmental organizations, has trained the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) techniques. Assistance has also developed Solomon Islands’ capacity to locate and track remaining UXO contamination.
Prime Minister Sogavare convey sincere appreciation to the US Government for supporting the MPNSC’s request and prioritizing the war legacy issue.
“Solomon Islands places enormous importance on UXO clearance/removal. The presence of UXO can impede development efforts, and compromise safety and security of communities and public.”
The Government is also thankful to US for its COVID 19 vaccine support to the country.
He thanked and appreciate US’s assistance and support in providing Pfizer vaccines, which has enabled the vaccination roll-out throughout the country.
On the Bilateral Economic Relations – US Treaty Agreement, Prime Minister Sogavare acknowledge US assistance provided under the Economic Assistance Agreement and Solomon Islands welcomes the increase to the Economic Assistance package. He said, additional commitments should not detract from Pacific Islands Parties desire for increased value for their tuna.
Market access for Solomon Islands Kava products in US is an important area that could bolster the economic partnership between the two countries. International exports of Kava from Solomon Islands have increased, however access to international markets has been an issue. Kava exports from Solomon Islands increased has steadily in the past ten years. The total volume of kava exported in 2019 and 2021 were 14.7 MT and 18.1 MT respectively.
The US is fast becoming a popular market for Pacific Islands kava products. Fiji in particular has taken full advantage of this opportunity. In 2020 it was reported, Fiji’s made 15 million in revenue from its US market.
Solomon Islands would like to see its kava products enter the US market. Therefore, the Government welcome any support that US can render to enable market access for our kava products.
The US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman also handed President Joe Biden’s invitation for Prime Minister Sogavare to visit the White House in September.
The PM will officially respond to the invitation.