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Opening statement by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at Opening of PACPTMM

font color="#000000">PACIFIC ACP TRADE MINISTERS MEETING

font color="#000000">Novotel Hotel, Nadi

font color="#000000">20 - 21 October 2008

 

Opening Remarks by Tuiloma Neroni Slade

 Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

 

 

 

Madam Vice President of Kiribati

The Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa – Lau Afioga Misa Telefoni

Honorable Ministers

Excellencies/ Ambassadors/High Commissioners

Senior Trade Officials

Representatives of the CROP Agencies

Observers

Ladies and Gentlemen

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font color="#000000">Bula Vinaka, Talofa Lava and a warm welcome to this further session of the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers meeting.

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font color="#000000">Coming as you do from all corners of the Pacific, you reflect the diversity of trade conditions and needs of the region. Your gathering is also demonstration of the reality that in unity and with combined effort we have far better prospects to deal with the range of issues that are now before you.

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font color="#000000">Honourable Ministers,

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font color="#000000">Your meeting assumes particular importance in that Pacific Leaders in their communiqué of the Niue Forum had reaffirmed the continuing importance of pursuing economic integration and trade as a regional priority. And in doing so, Leaders took account of the proceedings and outcomes of the Pacific ACP Leaders meeting which also took place in Niue in August

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font color="#000000">You gather at a time of financial and economic turbulence around the world with real threat for global recession, and potential for unfavourable impacts for small economies such as those in our region.  We in the Secretariat have taken steps to closely monitor developments and to prepare to be of assistance to member countries as necessary.  .

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font color="#000000">May I say that this meeting also marks, for me, an occasion of special significance in that it is the first Ministerial gathering I am attending since taking office last Monday as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.     

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font color="#000000">Over the next two days your deliberations will put focus on issues of the greatest import: enduring and effective ways to implement the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA); facilities and improvements which Forum Island Countries must address, such as capacity needs, before the onset of detailed negotiations under PACER; and the all-important relations with the European Union through the negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement.

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font color="#000000">All are activities that touch almost every aspect of the national and regional development effort.  Turned to our advantage, they hold out for our communities a future of considerable, perhaps of infinite promise.  And so, as we work to deepen and strengthen regional cooperation, there should also be determined effort to make capital of the opportunities. Honourable Ministers, these are the considerations that give extra dimension to the complexities of your agenda and the challenges that are before your meeting.

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font color="#000000">Allow me then to quickly indicate where we are with some of the key aspects of the agenda, in particular with respect to developments in PICTA, PACER-Plus and the EPA negotiations. 

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font color="#000000">In your meeting in Port Vila last year, Ministers agreed to a proposed road map of negotiations to expand PICTA as an agreement on trade in goods only to include trade in services.  That work commenced in March this year with the aim, as you agreed, to conclude the negotiations around September/October this year.  For reasons that I believe are known to your Excellencies, negotiations have also fallen behind and may now have to be completed by the first quarter of 2009.  I am also informed that there are legal obstacles to the inclusion of trade in services as a protocol to the PICTA, and that the feasible option might be to renegotiate a comprehensive PICTA that has coverage both in goods and services. It would seem that over time a more comprehensive agreement of this type might ultimately replace the current PICTA.  The details of these aspects and, of course, other aspects of the PICTA negotiations, will be covered in the Secretariat presentations on this subject. 

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font color="#000000">Honorable Ministers

font color="#000000">With respect to the PACER-plus negotiations, the establishment of the office of the Chief Trade Adviser remains an issue of some difficulty.  At the Forum in Niue, Pacific ACP Leaders recognized the priority given by the Pacific Island Countries to the early appointment of a Chief Trade Adviser and the functioning of his/her office.  The Leaders have directed the PACP Trade Ministers to expedite and intensify efforts to establish the CTA or some other mechanism to provide the services and support to Forum Island Countries envisaged from the Chief Trade Adviser.  We in the Secretariat have taken steps to seek funding for the operations of the Chief Trade Adviser, including from Australia and New Zealand, and while there are hopeful indications, the Secretariat has yet to finalise any firm arrangements.  Consequently, at this time, the Secretariat is quite unable to assess with any measure of accuracy when the services of a Chief Trade Adviser might be recruited, or when his/her office might be operational.  There is also the particular sensitivity that pertains to the role of the Forum Secretariat – the Secretariat of 16 member States – and the assistance that it is called upon to play in the inter-parties negotiations between the membership of the Forum.  May I say that I look forward to your discussions on this matter, and the policy indications for the Secretariat that will come forward from your deliberations.

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font color="#000000">The Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union is the first substantive matter on your agenda.  For all the reasons that we understand the subject commands prominence in place and attention.  Much time and industry has been devoted to the Economic Partnership Agreement by your Excellencies, by senior officials and by the Forum Secretariat.  The negotiations are now at a critical stage, and important decisions need to be made. This meeting will need to set the directions for the time ahead.  Without question, there is need to protect the integrity of the positions of the PACP States and retain the unity of the Group.

font color="#000000">The officials have continued to work and their recent sessions in Brussels in September led to a better understanding of the positions of the European Union.  The report of the Brussels negotiations is before the Ministers for consideration.

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font color="#000000">To advance the negotiations, we need to set the way forward, and the Officials are proposing a number of options to assist the Ministers in determining the best course of action for the region.  Your Secretariat remains committed and ready to assist.

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font color="#000000">There are, of course, other subject issues on your agenda.  But in these few opening remarks I have given time only to what I believe are the major issues of concern. 

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font color="#000000">As I close, let me say that there has not been much available time and that on details I wander in new fields. But with your guidance and forbearance I expect that I, and the Secretariat with me, will remain true on the pathway of our regional endeavour. Allow me to thank you all Honourable Ministers for making time to attend this important meeting.  In particular, and on your behalf may I thank our host Minister Honourable Ratu Epeli Nailatikau and the Interim Administration for the protocol facilitation and other courtesies for this meeting.  To all Senior Officials, to learned consultants, to Deputy Secretary-General Peter Forau and his team from the Forum Secretariat, I extend to each of you warm appreciation and thanks for your hard work and commitment to our cause. 

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Thank you.