Opening remarks by Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Chair of PACPTMM

Opening Remarks by Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, the Fiji interim Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Provincial Development
and Multi-Ethnic Affairs  and Chair of PACPTMM, Novotel Hotel, Nadi, Fiji, 20  October 2008

Honourable Ministers,
Senior Government Officials,
Officials of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat,
Distinguished Guests

It is my privilege to deliver the Opening Remarks for the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers meeting here in Nadi. As some of you may be aware, I have recently been assigned a new portfolio and I am here today on the invitation of the Prime Minister. I trust that you are all enjoying the Fijian hospitality since your arrival into the country and I would like to extend, on behalf of the Fiji government, a very warm welcome to all of you.

I take this opportunity to welcome and congratulate Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade, the new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. I am confident that his tenure at the helm of the Secretariat will be fruitful for him and our region.

Honourable Ministers, in the past few days, our trade officials with the support of the Forum Secretariat have deliberated extensively over a variety of issues which are vital to our progress and development. Not only as different and unique nations armed with the different mandates from our various governments but more importantly as equal partners in the achievement of our solidarity as a region. I would like to give special emphasis to the word “equal”, as we should all be aware by now that our good fortunes, resolve and success as a region are only as strong as our weakest links.

We are here today to make a wide range of important decisions which will resonate in the halls of the region’s wall of fame or shame in the years to come. The importance of which we attach to these decisions rests solely upon each and every one of us; yet the outcomes of these decisions are so far reaching that it will transcend generations to come.

Let me just briefly touch on the main Item on the Agenda which is our on-going negotiations with the EU on Economic Partnership Agreement. We have set ourselves a deadline of completing and concluding negotiations on a Comprehensive EPA by the end of this year, an end to a journey that began in 2004 with a Joint Road Map, which upheld that the EPA must be an instrument for development and the development dimension should be reflected in all areas of the negotiations.

I would like to confer that the timeline we have set for ourselves should not come at an expense of this extremely crucial, central and yet, thus far, an elusive objective. Like with many other issues on the agenda, I would like to implore that this is a time to consolidate and not to “change horses in midstream”. Stemming last PACP Trade Ministers meeting and the JTWG in April in PNG, the PACP had decided to defer negotiations on services until negotiations with our developed partners in the Region were concluded under PACER Plus. This decision was made after exhausting the option of trying to obtain an offer in services from the EC that included meaningful concessions on temporary movement of natural persons (TMNP).

We should at this point of time reaffirm this position even though there has been growing pressure from the EC to resume negotiations in services, investments and other trade related areas. The focus should be progressing the goods agreement with fisheries chapter whilst keeping our sensitive areas in mind. We should continue technical negotiations on trade related areas of SPS and TBT, provided there are no additional binding obligations and on environment and social chapters of the EPA, on the proviso that these should not be subject to dispute.

We as Ministers would need to agree on a way forward on our priority areas of EPA negotiations, keeping in mind the recent developments and our vital interests in these negotiations. I would also like to refer to the decision of the 6th ACP Summits of Heads of States and Governments decision to engage in high level consultations on EPA-related matters and our own officials’ recommendations of launching a PACP Ministerial mission to selected European capitals to seek their support for our position on the EPA, which we should strongly support.

Equally important, our trade negotiations under PACER Plus are beckoning; some would argue that they are already here. I cannot stress enough the wide ranging implications of these negotiations on our fragile economies and more importantly in the raising of the standards of living of our poorest citizens. Honourable Ministers, we must not allow our regional unity to be derailed by the short term gains which go against the grain of our long term objectives. Our strength is in our numbers by speaking with one voice and it would also be a reflection of our ethical and moral commitment to be steadfast in holding our region together in these challenging times. In this regard, our priority should be to establish an Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (CTA), as soon as possible, as the vital first step in the Region’s preparations for PACER Plus negotiations.

Our PICTA negotiations are not any less significant. We must not view PICTA as just a stepping stone to PACER Plus. PICTA is more than that; it should be here to stay – it is our insurance of regional economic stability and security when every other nation, through their own sovereign foreign and trade policy decisions leave us at the mercy of the often cruel mercantilist forces of globalisation.

It is undeniable that the invisible, and at times not-so-invisible forces which threaten to weaken our solidarity, feed off our vulnerabilities as resource-starved nations; not just financially but in all other aspects of our daily lives. We are not alone. The once undeveloped Asian economies have risen above these challenges of economic dependence and they have triumphed.

The global financial crisis that some have rightly predicted to happen early this century is now sitting at our doorstep. Unfortunately, there is no escaping the wrath of the repercussions of this crisis if the larger players of the global economy fail to arrest the accelerating pace of its negative developments. The stone, Honourable Ministers, has been dropped into the pond and the ripples are already making their circular motions outwards. If we stand united region, we will be stronger to weather and survive the fury of such a crisis as this is not the first global financial crisis nor will it be the last. The global financial crisis and if indeed, this is to ameliorate into a global economic crisis will not choose its victims. We choose ourselves through the choices which we make in the here and now.

Honourable Ministers, I would therefore like to conclude by saying that our regional solidarity is the key ingredient to finding the solutions to the ultimate objectives of the reasons we are gathered here today. It is crucial that while we hold our national interests close to our hearts, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture of regional solidarity and the multitude of economic and social benefits of which are part of the package. We need to firstly put both our feet in the right place, then stand firm. The former should not be a difficult undertaking. I, for one, cannot see myself looking further than the countries represented in this room today as collectively holding the key to our prosperity and economic stability which are fundamental to our capacities as a region to be able to look, the continuously evolving challenges of globalisation, squarely in the face.

May the good Lord guide us all today in our deliberations and continue to give us the strength, the foresight and the wisdom to make the right decisions for our people not only in the short to medium term but more importantly for the many generations which are yet to come.
(I now declare the Pacific ACP Ministers meeting open).

Thank you all for your attention and vinaka vakalevu.