SG Slade's Remarks at the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting, Nadi, Fiji

Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting (PACPTMM)
16-17 May 2013

Introductory Remarks

Tuiloma Neroni Slade
Secretary General
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

• Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Industry and Trade of Fiji, Hon Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum
• Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa
• Honourable Ministers, and representatives of member Governments
• Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community
• Representatives of regional and technical agencies and observers to this meeting (FFA, OCO, OCTA, Office of PNA, PIPSO)
• Senior Officials of the region

With warm appreciation we express our acknowledgement and thanks to our hosts, the Government and people of Fiji for their hospitality and courtesy of their cultural welcome.

2. I want in particular to note our appreciation for the support received from the Ministry for Industry and Trade in facilitating the logistical arrangements for this meeting.

3. This meeting is being convened by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and we are especially grateful to the Director General, Dr Rodgers, and his staff for their ongoing understanding and facilitating support of the arrangements on the matter.

Honourable Ministers,

4. From the outset, let me highlight the significance of your gathering in Nadi today in advancing the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU). In that sense may I endorse what the Acting Prime Minister has said. I agree that for the Pacific the EPA is the natural vehicle for Sustainable Development, and that without it, this region faces considerable risks. There are other important agenda items, but primarily this meeting will consider the final steps in the conclusion of the negotiations of the EPA.

5. When the Pacific ACP region launched the EPA negotiations in 2004, we believed, in good faith, that the region would eventually be able to achieve the developmental objectives that were best suited to the uniqueness and vulnerabilities of the Pacific ACP States through the EPA. Pacific countries were also convinced that the spirit of the Cotonou Agreement would be sustained and honoured, and so that there is provision for adequate financial assistance to strengthen regional integration as well as to mitigate the costs of adjustment due to the EPA.

6. The core objectives of the EPA negotiations have always been economic development, the reduction and eradication of poverty, and the smooth and gradual integration of Pacific ACP States into the world economy.

7. Over the past ten years or so, the Pacific ACP region has faced many challenges in ensuring that the final EPA reflects these interlinked objectives. Unfortunately, it is the assessment of the Pacific countries that the European Union has not been responsive to the situation that is unique to the Pacific and to countries of this region, and thus has not lived up to Pacific expectations. It is largely for these reasons that negotiations have taken this long to conclude.

8. Honourable Ministers: since your last meeting in Tonga last August, there have been a number of developments in the EPA negotiations for your consideration. In addition to the Leaders’ directive that the EPA negotiations should be concluded in 2013, the European Union decision on Market Access Regulation has also added urgency to the need to conclude the EPA well before 1 October 2014. This EU ruling of 16 April 2013 has important implications for our future trading relations with the European Union as Pacific ACP States will need to decide by the end of this year if they are ready to commit and sign onto a comprehensive EPA.

9. Following multiple efforts on our part, the European Commission finally agreed to meet the PACP region in October 2012 for formal negotiations after a gap of some three years. Officials of the region have worked hard to prepare for the resumption of the formal negotiations with the European Commission, and we thank them for their efforts and commitment. Officials have undertaken substantial work on the technical details including market access offers; and, as of today, all fourteen Pacific countries have now submitted their offers to the European Commission. Our commitment to negotiate a comprehensive EPA resulted in the European Commission agreeing to further technical meetings in December 2012 and in March this year.

10. Honourable Ministers: the information provided to me suggests that the region has made decent progress in the technical aspects of the negotiations, and my understanding is that a good number of these can be resolved by our Officials. This is why we need to give them the Officials the necessary flexibility to enable them to narrow the outstanding and contentious issues at the next negotiating session with the European Commission in June/July this year. The aim is to narrow the outstanding issues to only a handful that will require your final Ministerial consideration and direction.

11. Fisheries is, of course, a key shared resource and has the potential to contribute significantly to economic growth and development across the entire region. Indeed, securing improved rules of origin for fresh, chilled and frozen fish is the main reason why many Pacific ACP States are negotiating on the basis of a comprehensive EPA. Issues relating to fisheries have been one of the most complicated in the negotiations, but the rewards are potentially high if successfully negotiated.

12. The exchanges of information on fisheries-related issues have proven beneficial and have allowed for a significant breakthrough in the fisheries aspects of negotiations. In this regard I want to acknowledge and sincerely to thank the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency especially for their much needed and appreciated expertise and assistance to the Pacific ACP States.

13. There are, however, a number of outstanding issues which still need to be addressed.

14. My information is that the region has provided the European Commission with the necessary information on management and conservation aspects of the fisheries resources, and that we have requested the EC to revert with a revised fisheries chapter and global sourcing proposal. Unfortunately, a satisfactory EC response remains outstanding. The lateness of the European Commission’s submission on fisheries, as well as other proposals on the legal text, is a matter of concern, in part because it puts added pressure on the Pacific ACP States in their preparations to ensure meaningful negotiations in what we intend to be the final technical round of negotiations.

15. It is clear that the EPA processes in all ACP regions must be completed by 1 October 2014. If an acceptable comprehensive EPA is not concluded, Pacific ACP countries would face the risk of losing their preferential market access into the European Union. For a number of Pacific ACP countries such a scenario would be unacceptable. Some Pacific countries may have to trade under the European Union’s Generalised System of Preference or the Everything-But-Arms arrangements which may not be as favorable as the EPA.

16. The regional negotiations have extended for much longer than anticipated, and the negotiations process has become increasingly constrained by lack of financial resources. The ideal situation would have been for the focus of Pacific resources now to be on implementation issues and on addressing the trade-related constraints that Pacific ACP countries face in exporting to international markets such as the European Union.

17. In this regard, the Secretariat has been working with other regional technical agencies to ensure that technical assistance is targeted, and that these yield benefits for Pacific people. The Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy and the Consolidated Aid for Trade Matrix are the frameworks through which the trade-related needs of Pacific ACP countries are expected to be addressed. The mechanism for channeling aid for trade resources would be the Pacific Regional Trade and Development Facility. The EPA provides for resources to be channeled through this Facility. Accordingly, I would seek your renewed support in ensuring that this Facility becomes operational.

18. Other regional trade initiatives such as the Pacific Island Counties Trade Agreement (PICTA) are important engagements that can drive regional integration. We need a new momentum in the implementation of PICTA, and a refreshed commitment by all Pacific island countries to this end. The broadening of PICTA through the Protocol on Trade in Services is an important step forward, and I would strongly encourage all Governments to consider giving the highest priority to signing, ratifying and implementing the Protocol and towards stimulating trade, growth and private sector development which no doubt will come with it. Samoa became the first country to ratify the Protocol just recently, and setting a precedent which I would highly commend to all. We also need to become ambitious and consider arrangements for improved mobility of skilled personnel among our countries.

19. The international trade and economic development landscape is changing rapidly. I believe we should take every advantage of developing relationships with other key trade and development partners. To this end, your consideration and guidance would be needed on the region’s initiatives to enhance trade and investment relations with countries like the United States of America and the Peoples Republic of China, matters which are both on your agenda at this meeting. This will obviously require careful sequencing of our participation in all the trade-related engagements.

20. Honourable Ministers: the Officials have undertaken a comprehensive review of the issues we have on your agenda and have provided their recommendations on each agenda item. Your guidance and direction are sought on the way forward on all these issues.

May I wish you well in your deliberations.

Thank you.

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