Although several incursions of Portuguese navigators in Oceania have been documented, relations between Portugal and the countries of this continent have been relatively weak, due to the great geographical distance that separates us.
The exception is Portugal's relationship with Australia, which is more intense thanks to the large Portuguese community established in the country for several decades, as well as regular political contacts concerning the independence of East Timore.
Oceania is often referred to as the "New World" because it is the continent most recently "discovered" by the Europeans, in which there are still many inhabitants of indigenous origin. It is also the continent with the smallest territorial extension, inhabited by only 0.5% of the entire world population, mainly concentrated in Australia.
Portugal has two resident diplomatic representatives (1 Embassy and 1 Consulate-General) in this region, which is composed of 14 sovereign States.
In order to countervail their small size and international isolation due to their distance, these countries are grouped in the Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental organisation that aims to strengthen cooperation among its members in different fields – security, economics, defence, etc. – and to defend their interests globally.
The small Pacific islands are also part of the list of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) informally established by the United Nations to jointly address the common concerns of these States, especially regarding extreme vulnerability to climate change and sustainable development conditions. They are also members of the Alliance of Small Island States, an intergovernmental organisation established in 1990 to act within the United Nations system to address the concerns of its members with the harmful consequences of global warming.
Like Portugal, the EU (European Union) is a member of ASEM – Asia-Europe Meeting, an intergovernmental process that promotes informal discussion between countries in Europe and Asia, of which Australia and New Zealand are also members.
The EU actively participates in the Pacific Islands Forum, developing major Regional Indicative Programmes. The last one was signed in 2015 for the period ending in 2020.
The EU’s relationship with the Pacific island states is mainly based on cooperation for development. It is one of the most important donors to the region, with particular focus on environment, energy and regional economic integration. These States are also part of the EU-ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) Partnership.
The EU maintains a strategic political partnership with Australia, based on common values and enshrined in the Framework Agreement signed in 2017, which establishes the development of a mainly economic relationship for joint work on common foreign policy and security issues. The EU-New Zealand Partnership Agreement on Relations and Cooperation, signed in 2016, reflects the ambition of both parties to increase cooperation and expand it to new areas of common interest, in particular innovation, environment and security.
Priorities of External Action
If, on the one hand, Portuguese diplomacy has traditionally favoured the following of the Portuguese and Portuguese-descendant communities in Australia – about 50,000 individuals – on the other hand it is also sought to intensify the pace of political and economic contacts, especially with Australia, but also with New Zealand.
The Portuguese Government also promotes youth mobility programmes between Portugal and Australia and New Zealand, as the prime way of ensuring greater proximity between the respective peoples.
Challenges and Opportunities
Being part of the group of leading countries in terms of production and use of renewable energy can promote partnerships with the Pacific countries to support the respective sustainable development ambitions. In order to compensate for the small presence in the region, Portugal should seize existing opportunities at European level to promote its companies and technologies.
Ongoing negotiations concerning Free Trade Agreements between the EU and Australia and New Zealand could create even more appealing conditions for our companies, which must be promoted, without neglecting our defensive interests, especially in agricultural matters.
The Australian interest in the exploitation of natural resources in Portugal, particularly minerals, could contribute to increasing investment in our country.