COFA Negotiations

Equitable Outcomes for Compacts of Free Association with the United States

Program Area:

Advocacy & Reform


USA, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau

Assisting in renewal negotiations with the United States to ensure stakeholder engagement and equitable outcomes for Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.

The Project

The Compact of Free Association (COFA) agreements bind Palau, Marshall Islands (RMI), and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) to the United States of America (U.S.). In exchange for U.S. military access, the U.S. gives economic assistance and allows COFA citizens to live and work in the U.S. There is a long history between the U.S. and the COFA states that includes nuclear weapons testing, human rights violations, and exploitation by the U.S. military. The COFA between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands and FSM is up for renewal in 2023, and the one with Palau in 2024. The renewal negotiations will include important discussions over human rights, migration, and environmental protection. Historically, these negotiations have occurred largely behind closed doors. However, given the U.S.’s interests in the region, with the mobilization of key stakeholders in the COFA states, this is a powerful opportunity to advocate for equitable outcomes.

This project will engage with local stakeholders (CSOs and government) in COFA states to build a common vision for more equitable outcomes from the 2023-2024 COFA renewal negotiations. This will involve three phases: 1) U.S. and COFA stakeholder outreach, 2) strategic assessments to illuminate COFA’s benefits and shortcomings, and 3) the development of participatory co-design workshops with stakeholders that would propose new Compact agreements.


Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

The gaps this project will address span several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), particularly 10 (reduced inequalities), 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions), and 17 (partnership for the goals). The agreements represent the type of inequity that SDG 10 seeks to address. Holistically, the issues with the existing agreements involve SDG 16 with limited access to justice and redress for nuclear testing and environmental destruction. SDG 17 promotes inclusive and participatory decision-making at the international, national, and local levels. Developing transparency on both sides will allow for a more equitable process and outcome for the renewal negotiations. This equitable process also means that women’s voices are elevated as emphasized by SDG 5 (gender equality).

In the renewal negotiations, there are few SDGs that are not covered or involved in the outcomes. SDG 8’s targets for responsible migration policies will be central due to the lack of provisions for COFA migrants in the U.S. and U.S. territories. Further, topics for negotiation will include climate action (13), quality education (4), and good health and well-being (3) among others. In essence, the negotiations are about partnership for the goals (17) as we promote a policy space in the COFA states for them to make the best decisions for their communities while lobbying the U.S. government to maintain transparency and uphold its rightful obligations.

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