2021: A year of action, progress

As we welcome the new year and farewell the Covid-19-ridden 2020, the United States, with partners, will resume and continue its development programmes in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific countries, US Ambassador to PNG, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu Erin McKee writes
The defence relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea is a strong and enduring one. – Defencepic

This is always a hopeful time, as we celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another.
While 2020 was fraught with unprecedented challenges around the world, we can take solace in the knowledge that brighter days are ahead.
Although the obstacles towards full economic recovery and health security are great, the courage and determination we discovered in one another during the darkest days of 2020 will ensure we can rise up and overcome them.
It is in that spirit that the United States seeks out opportunities every day to engage our partners, expand our relationships and execute on our promises.
As ever, we seek to build economic prosperity, strengthen the institutions of democracy, safeguard the future, and teach the next generation of our partners throughout the Pacific.
In 2021, as we all strive to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic, the US embassy Port Moresby team will work hand-in-hand with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and PNG to build on the promises of the 2018 Apec conference by taking the next critical steps to deliver on the five-year, US$57 million (K199.85mil) USAID-PNG electrification partnership (USAID PEP) and provide electricity to at least 200,000 PNG households.
PEP’s aim is to provide reliable access to electricity to drive inclusive growth and advance development in communities throughout Papua New Guinea.
In partnership with key government agencies, communities, and the private sector in Papua New Guinea to achieve the country’s electrification goals, consistent with the national electrification roll-out plan (Nerop), 2021 will be a year of action.
We will also work closely with the PNG Government to conclude three critical agreements: A defence cooperation agreement (DCA), a shiprider agreement and a trade and investment framework agreement (Tifa).
The DCA will lay the foundation for the United States to engage more deeply with the PNG Defence Force to expand training, education, and exchange opportunities with the United States, and execute on the joint Australian-PNG project at Lobrum Naval Base to support the PNGDF.
Shiprider is a unique agreement that allows members of the PNG defence and law enforcement officers to embark on US coast guard and US navy vessels to observe, board and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within their exclusive economic zones or on the high seas.
Shiprider agreements also help close global maritime law enforcement gaps, improve cooperation, coordination and interoperability, and build maritime law enforcement capacity to more effectively combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and other illegal maritime activity.
The agreements are meant to complement and reinforce arrangements in place with partners such as Australia, New Zealand and France.
Trade and investment framework Agreements (Tifas) provide strategic frameworks and guiding principles for dialogue on trade and investment opportunities between the United States and the other parties to the Tifa.
Around the world, the United States and our Tifa partners consult on a wide range of issues related to trade and investment.
The Tifa provides a platform to identify areas for further cooperation.
Topics for consultation under the Tifa include market access labour, the environment, protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, and, in appropriate cases, capacity building.
Travel restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic forced many of our education and cultural exchange programmes to halt in 2020.
Fortunately, we were able to transition our popular international visitor leadership programme to a virtual format, holding two popular sessions on public health and global economic cooperation with participants from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
This year, we will expand to 10 regional programmes and will included subjects such as the US justice system, US elections, investigative journalism, entrepreneurship and combatting trafficking-in-persons.
The Covid-19 also affected the Young Pacific Leaders initiative, a youth leadership development programme comprised of participants from Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, and the American-affiliated Pacific including American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawaii.
The programme strengthens ties and builds a community among the younger generation of government, civic and business leaders to address critical challenges and expand opportunities.
Embassy Port Moresby planned to host the 2020 young Pacific leaders conference in Port Moresby but had to cancel the event due to the Covid-19.
We adapted the programme to create a virtual conference series to engage participants who signed up for the conference in early 2020.
The events took place on Sept 27 and Nov 18 and included participants from nearly all participating Pacific nations, including the Solomon Islands.
A third event is scheduled for early February and the model has proven so successful that we plan to expand it further throughout the coming year.
As Thomas Jefferson said: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
The coming year will undoubtedly have its challenges, but if we learned anything from 2020 it’s that we are more resilient and more capable of meeting and overcoming those challenges than we ever thought possible.
I look forward to working with the government and people of Papua New Guinea and to deliver on the promise of a better tomorrow over the next year.
Here’s to a great 2021!

Erin McKee is the US ambassador to PNG, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu