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Pacific ACP Trade and Fisheries Ministers Meeting - Introductory remarks by Andie Fong Toy, Deputy Secretary General

                                                                                     

PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT

SECRETARIAT OF THE PACIFIC COMMUNITY

 

PACIFIC ACP TRADE AND FISHERIES MINISTERS MEETING

10-11 April 2014

 

Level 9 Conference Room, Suvavou House

Suva, Fiji

 

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

by

ANDIE FONG TOY
DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL

PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT
 

Hon. Fonotoe Nuafesili Pierre Lauofo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Commerce, Industry and Labour for Samoa;

Hon. Edward Nipake Natapei, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade for Vanuatu;

Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Attorney General and Minister for Industry and Trade for Fiji;

Honourable Ministers;

Your excellencies Ambassadors from Brussels and Fiji;

Ms Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamau, Deputy Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community;

Senior Trade and Fisheries Officials from the region; and

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

 

                 Welcome to Fiji, and may I commence by extending our deepest gratitude to the Government of Fiji and its people for their generous hospitality in hosting this very important meeting for our region. This meeting would not have been possible without the combined effort of a team of agencies who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate this important gathering of Ministers. I wish to acknowledge in particular the untiring efforts of Fiji’s Ministry of Industry and Trade for organising the logistics and protocol arrangements.

May I also acknowledge with appreciation our collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in convening this meeting. May I also at the outset express the Secretary General’s sincere apologies that he is not able to be with Honorable Ministers over the next two days.

On behalf of the Pacific ACP region, may I take a moment to also extend to the people and Government of Solomon Islands our deepest sympathies for the tragic loss of life and the dislocation of thousands of people as a result of the recent flooding in Honiara. We understand that there has been significant damage to infrastructure and that disaster relief and recovery efforts are underway.

Honourable Ministers, this meeting is of immense strategic importance. I wish to reaffirm the message from the Honourable Attorney General and Minister for Industry and Trade. As the Pacific ACP Trade and Fisheries Ministers you will be requested to provide the Pacific ACP region with clear directions on how you wish to see the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) conclude.

2.                 Last year was a very challenging year for the Pacific ACP –EU EPA negotiations as we made intense efforts to progress the conclusion of the negotiations. Let me acknowledge the enormous efforts of our Senior Officials and also the Staff of the Forum Secretariat. There were a record number of EPA-related meetings held in 2013 at the Officials and Ministerial level.

3.                 At the PACP meeting in December 2013 with the EU Trade Commissioner, Mr Karel De Gucht, the Pacific ACP States highlighted the importance of concluding the negotiations as a single region. Consequently, the PACP region and the EC agreed to a joint roadmap that would achieve the conclusion of the EPA negotiations this year.

4.                 The EU Trade Commissioner also acknowledged that it was impractical for the EU not to extend the benefits from the interim EPA into the comprehensive EPA. Since then, the Commissioner has written directly to Papua New Guinea on 30 January 2014 reiterating his views from the Honiara meeting. The region welcomes the assurances by the EU Trade Commissioner to resolve these issues.

5.                 I would like to acknowledge the presence of Papua New Guinea at this meeting which signifies your commitment to regional solidarity and promoting regional economic integration. I am sure that the Pacific ACP States will stand together with Papua New Guinea in ensuring that our concerns are addressed by the European Commission.

6.                 Honourable Ministers, at this stage of the negotiations, we must focus on concluding the EPA negotiations as a single unified region. The current EU Trade Commissioner is now acquainted with the issues of importance to Pacific ACP states in these negotiations. There are a number of developments pointing to the importance of concluding the negotiations within the next few months including the deadline for the amendment to market access regulation 1528/2009 that will come into effect on 1 October 2013, as well as the expiry of the Trade Commissioner’s term in office in September/October this year.

7.                 Fisheries is a key issue in the EPA negotiations which is of importance to both parties. The European Commission is continuing to insist that Pacific ACP States undertake commitments on conservation and management measures while the Pacific ACP States have a primary offensive  interest in securing an extension to global sourcing provisions for fresh, frozen, chilled, smoked and dried fisheries products (HS 0304/0305).

8.                 The Trade and Fisheries Officials have recommended negotiating options for your deliberation to resolve the fisheries issues. However, the road ahead is not an easy one. There are many obstacles and none more greater than the European Commission’s resistance to the earlier proposals submitted by the Pacific ACP States to resolve these issues.

9.                 There are other contentious issues in the EPA negotiations, which are mostly redline issues for the Pacific in the area of trade in goods such as export taxes, most favoured nation, non-discrimination and development cooperation, as well as, the specific commitments the European Commission is requesting on fisheries conservation and management, particularly changes to the Vessel Day Scheme, which the region is proposing to address in a 3 year independent review.

10.            Honourable Ministers, the stakes are high and your role over the next two days is to deliberate on the negotiating options that we as a region can take to Brussels for the forthcoming negotiations with the European Commission. We have reached a point in the negotiations where tough decisions need to be made and for Pacific ACP States to discuss seriously the commitments we can make to try to conclude the EPA negotiations. The expeditious conclusion of the EPA negotiations should not, however, compromise development benefits that the PACP region wishes to achieve through the EPA.

11.            We must also have a broader forward looking perspective when considering the conclusion of the EPA. We must recognise that the EPA as a trade agreement may be more valuable for certain countries than others in the region. However, of mutual importance to all Pacific ACP States is our relation with the EU. At this stage we are unsure of what the nature, shape and form of a new agreement with the EU will be after the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020. Apart from being a trade agreement, the EPA is also an institutional and legal framework that can continue our engagement with the EU post-2020.

12.            The region has been negotiating an EPA for 10 long years and we are stretched for time and resources. Focused discussions on the key issues over the next two days will deliver the necessary negotiating mandates and guidance with appropriate flexibility to see the negotiations through to a conclusion. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the importance of safeguarding countries’ sovereignty as well as the preservation of policy space for the future.

13.            The EPA will be an agreement with an indefinite lifespan. The agreement cannot burden our future generations with the obligations from the potentially harmful provisions in the draft agreement, but instead must provide economic opportunities to achieve sustainable growth and development.

14.            Honourable Ministers, apart from the EPA-related issues, you will also be receiving an update on the Aid for Trade work that has been undertaken in the region, in particular consideration of the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy. We will also have the opportunity to discuss an update on activities related to enhancing our engagement with important trading partners such as China and the United States of America. This will be followed by an update on the developments concerning the European Union funded Pacific Integration and Technical Assistance Project (PITAP), and the Hub and Spokes Programme.

15.            May I take this opportunity to extend the region’s appreciation to the European Union for the funding provided under PITAP as well as through the Commonwealth Secretariat managed Hub and Spokes Programme. These facilities have been instrumental in supporting the Pacific ACP region’s engagement in the EPA negotiations.

16.            Before I close, let me very sincerely thank the Chair of the Officials meeting, Mr Shaheen Ali and all Senior Officials of the region for their hard work over the past three days in engaging in extensive discussions to develop recommendations for your consideration.

17.            I wish Honourable Ministers every success in your deliberations.

 

Thank you.

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