SG's Opening Remarks, Pacific ACP Ministers Meeting, Apia, 2011

Aggie Grey’s Hotel, Apia, Samoa
3 - 4 February 2011


Vice President of Kiribati, Honourable Teima Onorio,
Deputy Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Honourable Ham Lini,
Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Honourable Misa Telefoni Retzlaff
Honourable Ministers
Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Distinguished Officials from the region
Deputy Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community
Representatives of the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Oceania Customs Organisation
Colleagues and friends

May I acknowledge at once the kindness of our host Government in receiving us all so graciously at a particularly preoccupied time in the national calendar of Samoa. It is that spirit of hospitality, so typical of our region that I believe will go a long way towards the success of this singularly important Ministerial meeting.

I want to thank Madam Fekita Utoikamanu for her role in this meeting, and ask her to convey our greetings to the Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and our appreciation of SPC’s cooperation and partnership in this undertaking.

I am very pleased and honoured, on behalf of Deputy Secretary General Peter Forau who is with me, and on behalf of the staff of the Forum Secretariat, to join the Honourable Deputy Prime Minister, Misa Telefoni, in welcoming Honourable Ministers and you all this morning.

Since you last gathered here Apia in 2009, much has been achieved in relation to the technical areas. Inevitably, we have met challenges along the way, and these challenges need to be firmly addressed.

Honourable Ministers,

Your officials have had long meetings and extensive discussions since the beginning of the week. The outcomes of their deliberations are now before you, with their recommendations. We now seek from you, Honourable Ministers, specific instructions and clear guidance on directions for the way forward in the negotiations for the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

These negotiations have been ongoing for some six years now. The outcome is vital to all Pacific Island Countries and to the region as a whole. As we work towards the conclusion, as we must, we need to demonstrate Pacific resilience. We must not dwell on polarising issues. We cannot lose sight of national needs – for we are a region of diversity. Nor can we forget the Leaders’ prescription to negotiate as a single region – and the reality of a region of many shared commonalities and of a shared destiny. The Pacific is at its best when it acts together, and in concert we can accomplish.

Progress of the negotiations, thus far, falls short of expectations. Only two Pacific ACP countries – Fiji and Papua New Guinea – have been able to sign interim Economic Partnership Agreements. Elsewhere with other ACP areas, the negotiations have reached a stalemate in all regions except for the Caribbean. So, Pacific countries are not alone; and Pacific aspirations and their concerns are shared by other ACP countries.

Honourable Ministers,

You will note from the papers before you and no doubt from your officials, that the work carried out in advancing the Pacific EPA intensified in 2010. The year 2010 was one of our fullest and busiest years on EPA work. Last year, your officials have worked hard to prepare for the next meeting with the European Commission. They have undertaken substantial work on market access offers, and up to seven countries are now ready to move forward with their offers. Much work has been carried out by the Secretariat in support of your officials, and I want to give you the clearest of assurance that the Secretariat, at the direction of PACP States, remains fully prepared and committed to play your role to make every progress and conclude these important negotiations.

Meetings of fisheries and trade officials have made progress on outstanding issues in the fisheries chapter, and the customs text has been considered and drafted in close consultation with customs officials. During this time we have benefitted from the advice provided by the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Oceania Customs Organisation, and their support has been essential in this work.

Market access, however, is not enough to create truly beneficial outcomes for our communities. The Pacific needs to remain firm in its position that the Economic Partnership Agreement must go beyond market access and have a strong development focus. Only then will our most vulnerable nations truly benefit, in a sustainable manner, from this strategic partnership with the European Union. Development cooperation is an integral part of the EPA, and additional, sustainable resources are required to support EPA implementation and the development of the private sector.

Despite the issues discussed and debated in the last year, there are still many areas that require further consideration. There are a range of contentious issues that require your guidance and direction. Some of these contentious issues are unique to the region; others are identical to those faced in other ACP countries, especially in Africa. These must be resolved if we are to move forward, and this will require flexibility both on the part of Pacific ACP States and the European Union.

Honourable Ministers,

I invite you to cast a critical eye over the 2011 Draft Strategy prepared by the Secretariat which reviews the Economic Partnership Agreement and sets out a range of options for the Pacific ACP States with a view to achieving progress and towards concluding the negotiations. We must determine a clear strategy to bring these negotiations to a conclusion. Your direction and guidance will be crucial and will map out a clear path ahead of our region.

With respect to PICTA issues, implementation of commitments is lacking and requires special attention and commitment by all Parties and Signatories. I wish to encourage all those PICTA parties that have yet to complete their domestic legislative changes to kindly hasten the process so that trade under PICTA can intensify.

Your meeting today will also consider the WTO issues including an update on the Doha Development Agenda and Forum Island Country accession to WTO as well as an update on the operations of the Forum Office in Geneva.

Finally, you will also be briefed on issues pertaining to Aid for Trade in the Pacific and current Programmes supporting related activities in the region.

Honourable Ministers and distinguished delegates,

Let me reiterate – and I cannot say it enough – that we must pull together as a region, for it is as a region that we are strongest in the international arena. Let us foster the high-level political commitment that exists to give this process momentum and fruition. In your endeavours to progress this important work, you have my utmost assurance that I and your Secretariat remain committed and ready to assist.

Mr Chairman,

I have noted your suggestion that the Secretariat should be given a “firm time-line to conclude and achieve an EPA”. Let me say that the Secretariat is at the command of member States and stands ready to receive instructions from this meeting and do its utmost to carry them out. But let it be understood that the role of the Secretariat is to provide advice and support to member countries. Your Secretariat is not a negotiator. The conduct and management of the EPA negotiations are the responsibilities of member countries, as it is the responsibility of each member country to determine and complete national preparations, including market access offers.

With respect to the concerns of member countries which you have also referred to, Mr Chairman, I would need to say that the Secretariat treats the expressed concerns of member countries with very great seriousness.

I appear before you, Honourable Ministers, to account fully and personally for the performance of the Secretariat. There is no pretense to perfection in our services. But we are careful and conscientious in our efforts. Where there are shortcomings I will be the first to offer sincere apologies to member countries and do so unhesitatingly. But, naturally, the Secretariat would be entitled to know the details which substantiate the concerns expressed.

Allow me also to say that it is not right to single out a particular Secretariat officer, or officers. Within the Secretariat, all important decisions on the EPA work and negotiations require the personal clearance and approval of the Secretary General. With every sense of duty I accept responsibility for the actions of the Secretariat.

Honourable Ministers,

I wish you well in your deliberations.

Fa’afetai lava.


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