Ag DEG Opening Remarks, Meeting of PACP TWG-LICB
Meeting of the Pacific ACP States Technical Working Group on Legal, Institutional and Capacity-Building Issues (TWG-LICB)
20-21 April 2009
Talei Room, Tanoa International Hotel
Nadi, Fiji

Opening Remarks

by Mr Shiu Raj
Acting Director Economic Governance Programme
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Senior Trade and Legal Officials, and other Members of delegations,

On behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, may I begin by welcoming you all to this meeting of the Pacific ACP States Technical Working Group on Legal, Institutional and Capacity-Building Issues.

2. This is, in fact, the first meeting of PACP trade officials convened to consider solely EPA-related issues since the PACP-EC Joint Technical Working Group (JTWG) Meeting in Brussels last September and the PACP Trade Officials Meeting held here in Nadi the following month. As you will be aware, some negotiating progress was made during the JTWG Meeting and, with that in mind, PACP Trade Ministers at their meeting in October highlighted the need to continue technical discussions on the comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

3. In line with procedures agreed at the JTWG Meeting last September, negotiations on outstanding issues in the EPA text have been proceeding electronically pending the resumption of face-to-face negotiations between the two sides. While differences have been resolved in some areas, a considerable number of square brackets in the draft legal text as well as several important substantive issues remain to be settled. Negotiating “electronically” with the EC has been challenging and rather unsatisfactory in terms of concluding negotiations.

4. We need to focus our attention on the actual building of the long-term partnership between the PACP region and the European Union, which is the main objective of the EPA. It is widely recognized that, if substantial progress is to be made and negotiations conclude in 2009, there will be a need for the two sides to meet in the near future for direct negotiations across the table. In an attempt to progress negotiations, therefore, the PACP Lead Ministerial Spokesperson for the EPA negotiations, the Honourable Minister Hans Joachim Keil of Samoa, wrote to the new EC Trade Commissioner, Baroness Catherine Ashton, last month, setting out in clear, concise terms this region’s basic position on key EPA issues and proposing that a JTWG meeting be held as soon as practicable to advance the negotiations. The Commissioner has yet to respond to Minister Keil’s proposal. During your meeting you will have an opportunity to consider a possible way forward in the negotiations and your recommendations will go forward for consideration by PACP Governments.

5. Given the length of time that has elapsed since PACP trade and legal officials last met collectively to consider EPA matters, it was felt useful to convene this TWG meeting to consider how best to move forward on outstanding issues in the negotiations leading up to the next JTWG meeting. I am pleased that so many have been able to participate in this meeting and your doing so will no doubt strengthen our regional position.

6. Rather than my commenting specifically on the various important issues on your agenda that will require your attention over the coming two days, may I simply take this opportunity to recall that PACP Trade Ministers have deliberated long and hard on the region’s negotiating positions on a wide range of EPA-related issues. Their decisions must serve as a basis for your discussions and whatever recommendations you might wish to make on an appropriate way forward. While all will need to be borne in mind, three decisions made by Ministers, I believe, are particularly apposite and worth mentioning at this point. First, Ministers have continually emphasized the importance of the PACP States continuing to negotiate the comprehensive EPA as a single region in order to secure optimum benefits for all concerned. Secondly, Ministers have also agreed that a comprehensive EPA should be accepted only when all parties agree and that the EPA must reflect the differing circumstances and interests of all the PACP States. And thirdly, Ministers have stressed that the EPA negotiations should not jeopardize important regional trade initiatives. Those principles, I would urge you to bear in mind as you proceed through your agenda.

7. It must be recognised that it will probably not be possible to resolve all outstanding issues at the technical level and some will quite likely require high level intervention at an appropriate time. It will be for you as technical experts to assist and support your Ministerial representatives with the best possible technical advice when that time comes. . In that regard, you can continue to rely on the support and assistance of the Forum Secretariat as you may wish.

8. For the present, however, it will be for you gathered here today to address in a spirit of constructive cooperation the outstanding technical issues for the benefit of the entire PACP region. I do not for one minute underestimate the challenges before you as you move forward but, together, you have the opportunity to make a historic contribution to the development of our region and the forging of a lasting partnership between the PACP region and the European Union.

9. I look forward to your valuable inputs and wish you well in your deliberations. Thank You.