NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to The New York Foreign Press Center. Thank you for your flexibility today as we pivoted to the Zoom format. We much prefer seeing your faces in person but wanted to spare you the stress of navigating this building during this time of heightened security.
We’re honored to have Ambassador Jessye Lapenn with us today. Ambassador Lapenn is Senior Coordinator for Atlantic Cooperation here at the Department of State. She’ll provide a readout of yesterday’s launch of the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation by Secretary Blinken and ministers from around the Atlantic. My name is Melissa Waheibi; I’ll be your moderator today. This briefing is on the record, being recorded. Transcript will be on our website later today at fpc.state.gov.
As we begin, we ask that your Zoom profile reflects your name and organization. And after a time of opening remarks, we’ll have a time of Q&A, which I will moderate. At this point, ma’am, the floor is yours and we will begin. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR LAPENN: Thanks. Morning, everyone. Really, really nice to see all of you on screen. I think you’ll – most of you will have seen the President’s remarks this morning at the opening of the General Assembly, and you all will have heard him talk about yesterday’s event at which Secretary of State Blinken launched, with many of his counterparts from around the Atlantic, the new Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation. And I have to say that the word “partnership” is really important in this context, because getting to yesterday and getting to this launch was truly a group effort.
So yesterday 32 coastal Atlantic countries adopted the Declaration on Atlantic Cooperation and an action plan to begin implementing immediately. This new multilateral forum brings together an unprecedented number of coastal Atlantic states – from across Africa, Europe, North America, South America, and the Caribbean – to engage in collective problem solving and uphold a set of shared principles for Atlantic cooperation. The stakes are high for Atlantic countries to be able to work together more effectively. That’s true whether we consider the economic activity the Atlantic Ocean supports, the environmental resources, the benefits it provides, or the channels of communication it enables. We must strengthen cooperation to facilitate innovation and conversations on these issues. The Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation aims to do just that.
As Secretary Blinken said yesterday, by joining this declaration, each of us is affirming our commitment to the interconnected goals of advancing a peaceful, stable, prosperous, open, safe, and cooperative Atlantic region, and to conserve a healthy, sustainable, and resilient resource for generations to come.
Now, I mentioned how important the word “partnership” has been in in this journey of getting to launch, and so I would really feel remiss if I didn’t at the outset thank the group, the drafting committee that we worked with. It was a relatively small – but regionally representative and just representative in so many ways – group of countries: Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Ireland, Morocco, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
That group and the diplomats, the individuals really, the – the diplomats who represented those countries, they worked together building relationships, explaining their perspectives, understanding one another’s perspectives, and together developed a declaration and then brought additional countries on board, so that yesterday there were 32 countries that adopted the declaration, and truly thanks to this small group’s work, their recognition of the stakes, and their commitment to finding a shared approach to addressing shared problems. That’s really what’s brought us to this moment.
This new partnership is the first grouping that spans the whole of the Atlantic – both the north and the south, the east and the west – and that covers a full range of issues from sustainable development to cooperation on science and technology. It’s also the first time that so many Atlantic countries have come together to articulate a set of shared principles for the Atlantic region and to establish a multilateral forum through which we can work together on a regular, routine, consistent basis. We see this as a broad new coalition working together to mobilize resources, galvanize action, and usher in a new era of cooperation across the Atlantic region.
That means forging deeper connections among countries on all the Atlantic continents and contributing to the – to the regional multilateral architecture. It’s consistent with a broader effort, and Secretary Blinken said last week the more coalitions we build, the more we can find new synergies between and among them. So this is just one of the kinds of coalitions that he was talking about. The Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation, however, is unique, because it’s not defined by land borders. Instead, it brings together a community of ocean neighbors. We think that this approach is also consistent with the spirit and the call to action of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
At the same time, we are committed to working with existing Atlantic-based groupings to ensure connectivity and avoid duplication. We recognize we need to work with all these other entities – such as the Atlantic Center, the South Atlantic Zone of Peace and Cooperation, the All-Atlantic Alliance for Research and Innovation, the Yaounde Architecture, the Atlantic African States Process, and so many others. The partnership will seek to bolster connectivity with all of them. It will bring greater visibility, political support, and convening power to help bring those initiatives, as appropriate, to increase – to increase their own potential as we all work toward improving collaboration via everybody’s individual and organizational goals.
As we all recognize, we have an obligation to be good stewards of our planet, for this generation and the next and all those that follow. We need to work together to tackle shared global challenges, address the climate crisis, and protect our environment and build more sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems. To put it in some perspective, the Atlantic Ocean is the world’s most heavily traveled ocean, with critical trade routes and energy resources. The World Bank estimates that oceans contribute $1.5 trillion annually to the global economy and expects this figure to double by 2030. Sustainable ocean economy sectors are estimated to generate almost 50 million jobs in Africa and to contribute some $21 billion to Latin American GDP.
But challenges like the crisis, environmental degradation, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and illicit trafficking all threaten this economic activity. Special Envoy Kerry has said the climate crisis and the ocean crisis are one in the same. We can’t fully address one without the other. It’s the crisis of the air and the ocean. We see the implications as rising sea levels pose economic and infrastructure risk. The record-breaking warming ocean surface, especially in the Northern Atlantic, threatens human health and the ecosystem, and contributes to more frequent and intense storms.
The Atlantic plays a pivotal role in shaping global climate and weather patterns. The Atlantic Gulf Stream shapes climates across all our continents. Life-threatening floods, droughts, heat waves, floods, and storms – amidst the aftereffect, especially, of a global pandemic – compound risks to our economic and food security, deepening vulnerabilities in communities and threatening to destabilize institutions essential for global security.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, or IUU fishing, and unsustainable fishing threaten ocean health, can contribute to overfishing, and can lead to the collapse or decline of fisheries that are required for economic growth, food security, and the health of ecosystems. That means that legal fishing not grounded in a science-based management, and IUU fishing, which evades management rules, can both threaten sustainability and food security of the communities that depend on them, especially when those activities involve forced labor, human trafficking, and other crimes and human rights abuses.
Even if I stop there with the immense challenges facing the Atlantic, it’s easy to see just how interconnected both the challenges and the consequences are. No single country would be able to address them alone. The partnership recognizes that reality and creates an ability to act on it in a collaborative and sustainable way. As a group, we adopted a plan of action for this coming year in addition to the declaration. We aimed to find activities that would yield concrete benefits for Atlantic countries, promote the involvement and support of maximum number of countries, would be better addressed with resources and actions encompassing both Northern and Southern Atlantic countries, and enhance existing initiatives.
We agreed to promote greater scientific cooperation by sharing information, building capacity, and increasing access to technology. So we intend to promote science and technology cooperation, including the sharing of data and best practices, and applying it to the benefit of Atlantic coastal countries and to address the needs of Atlantic coastal communities.
We will expand and broaden participation and select activities of the All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance and will strengthen forecasting and early warning capabilities, particularly with regard to severe weather events. We also want to identify critical gaps in capacity and technology. This means increasing access to maritime domain awareness technology.
Finally, we’ll look to the future. This includes establishing a cadre of young Atlantic scientists, by establishing a scholarship and exchange program to foster excellence and build ties among the next generation.
There is a lot of work to be done, but yesterday’s adoption of the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation was an essential and really exciting step. It will create a lasting platform for information-sharing, collaboration, and the free exchange of ideas and innovations among a community of people dedicated to keeping the Atlantic sustainable, free, open, and prosperous.
Thanks very much. I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, ma’am. This is the time for Q&A. As a reminder, in order to be called on, your Zoom profile should reflect your name and media outlet. You can ask your question by raising your virtual hand, and I’ll call on you, and at that point you’ll need to turn on your microphone. You can also type your question into the chat feature, and I can ask that on your behalf. So we’ll give this a moment and see if any journalists have any questions.
Thank you, Pearl. I see you have a question. If you can engage your microphone, and you can offer up your question.
QUESTION: Thank you for this opportunity and for sharing your remarks. I really appreciate that. So I’d like to maybe begin by asking you questions regarding the continent of Africa and the maritime waters that you have described along the Atlantic. Firstly, could you help our African audiences understand the motivation behind this grouping of states? Why now? Why haven’t you done it before? So if you could explain the reasoning behind why it’s important for you to do it now.
And added to that, I heard a lot of what you mentioned regarding illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, for example. Are you addressing China in this regard in the Gulf of Guinea? Or do you have other challenges and concerns?
Of the list of countries that you mentioned, these 32, right, countries that are in this plan – almost half of these countries are African countries. But what I – what stands out to me is that South Africa is not mentioned in that list of countries, and South Africa, as you well know, has almost 2,800 kilometers or rather almost 1,700 miles of coastline, much of which is also Atlantic. How is it that South Africa is not part of this list, and could you speak to that, please? That does stand out to me. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Pearl, can you state which organization you’re writing for.
QUESTION: Absolutely. I’ll be writing today for the Premium Times, which is headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR LAPENN: Thanks so much for those questions. So I think on the why now – which is a really important question – I think it reflects the commitment to partnership, commitment to multilateralism, appreciation of global challenges. The President said this morning, “Our future is bound to yours. No nation can meet the challenges of today alone.” And I think that this partnership is exactly a manifestation of that, and that – that this moment demands this kind of response, a response that is broad and inclusive. And the values of the declaration, the way that we got to the declaration, I think all really reflect that.
On the second question, we are really focused on problem-solving. That includes a very heavy focus on sustainable economic development. It’s really also – many – I would say the problems we are focused on, the problems we are solving – and I really mean that, a collective “we”, because the process of getting to the declaration was an inclusive one in which we worked hard with partners to think through from the beginning what’s everybody’s priorities, let’s put them on the table, let’s think through priorities, let’s rack and stack, let’s find the priorities that we all share and go from there.
And so I think what you have then is a partnership with tremendous buy-in from around the Atlantic as opposed to something else. And so that’s really how we got there and I think something that’s useful in understanding why the focus on sustainable development, why the focus on science and technology.
As far as the membership, we were really happy that we had 32 countries really broadly geographically representative that joined. We have been in this process engaging with many other countries. Many have indicated an intent to join. Others have been very interested in learning more, and all those conversations we will follow up through travel, through some virtual consultation, through our embassies. We want to make sure that all the countries around the Atlantic feel they understand what we’re doing, they have a space to contribute, and all those consultations will continue. And most importantly, the door will remain open. Again, the values of inclusion and openness and access that mark the partnership will then, I think, be really relevant going forward.
Thanks for those.
QUESTION: Thank you for your response.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll leave a few moments for other questions.
Ma’am, if you could state the goals for the partnership? And also following that, now that you’ve launched, what are the next steps?
AMBASSADOR LAPENN: So on goals, really two main goals. The first is to lay out a framework. It’s to articulate the values through which we as an Atlantic community, through which we as Atlantic countries understand our shared resources, understand our shared challenges, and the values through which we want to address them.
And then the second goal is to operationalize that. And I think it’s really important that what was adopted yesterday wasn’t only a declaration; it was a declaration with an annexed plan of action, because we want to be declaring and doing. And that really is – it’s helpful now, so the day after the launch, in order to say right, what are we doing. So if yesterday was about launching, today is about implementing.
And so wonderfully, from the perspective of those who are – of us who are working on it, we already have some timelines laid out in terms of beginning a process right away. Where we know we’ve got deadlines in November, we will begin to convene a series of working groups and really narrow the priorities and get to work.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. And then also, how does this partnership relate to other organizations’ work in the Atlantic?
AMBASSADOR LAPENN: One really important theme for us has been nonduplication, noncompetition. There are others who are working in this space, and hard problems need many solutions. There isn’t going to be one effort to solve hard problems. And so I think really crucially we, from the outset, have recognized that there are other leaders around the Atlantic who are contributing to thinking about the challenges and also thinking about the solutions.
And so from the outset, we have been committed to making sure that we are working in an transparent, collaborative way and are committed to working with other organizations. Challenges are too big for inefficiency and duplication, and so our goal is very much to ensure we work closely with others.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Pearl, you indicated you might have a follow-up question. If that’s true, feel free to open your mike and ask that question.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. And Ambassador, I appreciate you affording me the second opportunity for a very short question. I hear you on the operationalization aspect of it and implementation, which is important. So my question to you is: Given the realization, right, that any big projects such as the one your country – these countries are going to be embarking on, for it to be successful is going to mean you need coordination. You’ve got different countries with different national interests and different challenges, some of them with security challenges.
And so have you identified who will coordinate this, and when will they get started? Where will they be set up? So could you sort of flesh out a little bit more this implementation piece? Because I hear the great plan – it’s a great plan. Will it actually work? And if it does work, there needs to be a lead person who will coordinate this. What’s – how is that going to look?
AMBASSADOR LAPENN: Thanks. So thanks so much for that. We’re not building a secretariat, but instead we will work with others. So there won’t be sort of one central head, which I think from a partnership perspective works better. And so I think – so the facilitating aspect is really important, as opposed to leading, directing.
And that’s not so easy, but I do think it really is important and reflects the current moment, which requires lots of ideas and lots of solutions in a 360 way. And so we will work with others. Other governments have identified focal points, and we’ll all work together. But we fully appreciate the challenges around coordination and around implementation. And I think we’ve been really focused on those from the outset, because that’s where we need to work, that’s where we need to be in order for this really terrific declaration to be embodied and for coastal communities around the Atlantic to feel its impact.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. If there are no other questions, this concludes our briefing today. Thank you, Ambassador, for being here, and to the journalists who participated. Again, thank you for this virtual pivot; appreciate everybody’s flexibility. Again, the transcript will be available on fpc.state.gov later today. If anybody has any questions, you can reach us and email us at NYFPC@state.gov. Thank you so much. Have a good afternoon.