Opening statement by DSG Forau at PICTA meeting

22-24 April, 2009
Tanoa International Hotel,
Nadi, Fiji Islands

Peter Forau
Deputy Secretary General
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

1. Forum Island Countries Senior Officials and consultants, Ladies & Gentlemen.

2. On behalf of the Secretary General, Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to the third round of the PICTA trade in services negotiations. We are meeting again almost nine months since the last negotiations which were held in the Cook Islands. At that time countries presented and discussed their services offers and demands building on the agreements achieved in the first round of negotiations in March 2008 and the requirements of GATS. Over the last months further work has been done on those offers and requests and I’m pleased to note that there has been notable improvements in the clarity and coverage of the offers and requests.

3. As we engage over the next three days, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the mandate given to us by our Trade Ministers regarding the PICTA trade in services agreement. You will recall that our Trade Ministers, at their meeting in May 2007, gave us a mandate to conclude a PICTA trade in services agreement by October 2008. Unfortunately, this target, as you are aware, could not be achieved because many of the FICs weren’t able to finalise their offers in order to conclude negotiations by October.

4. This is understandable given the capacity needs of the FICs and the technical requirements of formulating offers and demands. To allow more time for the FICs to continue to work on their offers and requests, the Ministers have agreed that we continue to work on these and conclude an agreement at the end of 2009. This additional time had allowed extensive in-country consultations to be undertaken and for technical assistance to be provided to ensure trade in services offers and requests could be refined. As I mentioned earlier, almost nine months have lapsed since the second round of negotiations, so I sincerely hope that we have come well prepared for the negotiations so that we can make good progress in the next three days.

5. I understand that most of the offers that will be tabled at this meeting have been subject to technical review and the reports have already been made available to the respective FICs. I hope you have found those reports useful. The technical experts who undertook the review will be discussing with you the improvements that could be brought to the offers, as you engage in your trade in services liberalization initiatives. I encourage you to take advantage of their presence here and seek further clarifications on the reports if needed.

6. Allow me to now briefly touch on one specific issue. You are aware that the FIC trade Ministers agreed that “the extent of liberalization of services among the FICs needs to be sufficiently extensive so that future commitments with other developed partners do not supersede the liberalization initiatives among the FICs”. In order to fulfill this mandate, individual FICs will need to make extensive trade in services offers to others. If the PICTA trade in services agreement is to be of relevance to the region in future, extensive liberalization among the FICs is necessary. It is also important that you reflect on the discussions relating to the suspended trade in services negotiations under the EPA with the EU, and the ongoing informal discussions on PACER-Plus on this matter with Australia and New Zealand.

7. In light of the current Global Economic Crisis and given the complexities of services sector liberalisation, it is necessary that we assess very carefully the commitments we will be making in the opening up of our economies. We know that the liberalisation of services sectors, if managed properly, can induce efficiency, lower costs and bring in investment that create employment for the FICs. However, the social impact of yur liberalization initiatives should always be kept in mind. These liberalizations will need to be accompanied by relevant supporting mechanisms such as basic regulatory reforms. Ongoing consultations with relevant authorities and engagement with the private sector are essential as you progress your trade liberalization agenda.

8. Another important issue on your agenda is the proposed framework for the temporary movement of natural persons within the FICs. The FIC Trade Ministers at their meeting in October last year endorsed that a two tier approach be explored for the PICTA TMNP scheme. The consultants will present a conceptual framework of the PICTA TMNP scheme, and will provide information on how the scheme could operate to the benefit of the region. I urge you to discuss the proposed framework in detail and share your views with the consultants to ensure that all important issues are covered and clarified. The proposed framework will be refined based on your comments and suggestions, and will then be subject to national consultations in the FICs.

9. You will have noted from the agenda that a good part of the three days meeting focuses on presentations and negotiations. Provisions for bilateral discussion have also been made and I urge all of you to please make good use of the expertise available during this meeting. Finally, while we are all working towards the deadline of end-2009 for a PICTA trade in services agreement, you will most certainly agree that progress thus far has been sub-optimal. In your discussions on the way forward, I urge you to re-evaluate the remaining work, taking into account other competing commitments that you currently have.

10. With these few remarks, I wish you all the best in your deliberations and I look forward to the outcomes of the negotiations. Thank you.