Level 9, Suvavou House
16 July 2015
Our Host, Mr Shaheen Ali, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism;
Senior Trade and Fisheries Officials;
Director of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency,
Representatives of the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation and the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser.
Ladies & Gentlemen
Let me commence by expressing our sincere appreciation to the Government of Fiji for the excellent hosting arrangements, as well as the efficient protocol arrangements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to ensure the facilitation of this important regional meeting.
- My remarks will be brief. I know that officials in this room are fully aware of the seriousness and importance of the issues before us with regard the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that the Pacific ACP (PACP) States have been pursuing with the European Union (EU) for 11 years. We have invested significant time and resources in this negotiation and the journey has been difficult and challenging, especially having to negotiate with a powerful and well resourced European Commission representing the biggest trading block of the EU.
- We are at a juncture where very important decisions regarding the PACP-EU EPA negotiation need to be made by our Trade and Fisheries Ministers tomorrow. Without doubt, the Pacific has negotiated in good faith in trying to secure a meaningful EPA that would be beneficial to the PACPS and the EU. We have communicated strong commitments towards reaching a deal on a development friendly comprehensive EPA but this has not been reciprocated by the European Commission.
- The EU has continuously highlighted that the resolution of the differences on fisheries related matters is the ‘gateway’ issue. In its most recent written communication, the EU has proposed a deferment in the comprehensive EPA negotiation for three years in order for the Pacific ACP States to complete the review of their fisheries management systems, in particular the review of the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS). Subsequently, the EU has signaled that the deferment of the negotiations for three years was only a proposal by the EU, and not a decision. We are meeting over the next two days to make a final determination on how the Pacific region is going to respond to the EU, in order to conclude the EPA negotiations.
- While a number of contentious issues remain on the negotiating table, including on trade in goods, the fisheries conservation and management issues by far has been the most challenging to resolve. We are at the stage where the future of the comprehensive EPA rests on the progress we can make on the fisheries issues.
- Our key objective at this meeting is to discuss the adjustments that we can make to the PACP negotiating position, without compromising our core defensive positions. We cannot concede on the key redline issues that allow us to have an efficient fisheries conservation and management mechanism. At the same time, it is our responsibility as senior officials to ensure we have robust, frank and considered discussions on these issues and identify any possible areas of convergence, and provide the best possible advice and recommendations to our Ministers and eventually our Leaders on how the PACP-EU EPA negotiation can be concluded.
- The Pacific region recognises that there are sensitivities concerning the fisheries management issues, particularly concerning the VDS and it is important that we approach these issues in a careful manner, mindful of ensuring that any decision taken does not undermine the operation and effectiveness of the VDS. Based on the feedback received from some PNA States, we are aware that there are certain issues which may no longer be absolute redlines and we seek the counsel and advice of our PNA officials in providing greater clarity in these areas to assist regional efforts to advance the comprehensive EPA negotiations.
- We hope that the briefing papers prepared by the Secretariat will assist in our discussions. These papers have been developed taking into account the mandates and direction provided by Pacific ACP States on the remaining contentious issues and the conclusion of the negotiations. A questionnaire was sent to the PACPS seeking feedback on the continuation of the comprehensive EPA and the level of flexibility that countries are willing to show on the outstanding issues. The majority of views received by the Secretariat indicated that the comprehensive EPA remains a key priority for several Pacific ACP States and that the region should have a development friendly comprehensive EPA with the EU in order to promote regional solidarity and support regional economic integration, in particular taking into account the needs of Smaller Island States (SIS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
- The Secretariat is also aware that the comprehensive EPA is not necessarily being supported by all to the same extent. We need to discuss how best these variations can be addressed and how the Pacific region can support sovereign decisions taken by Member States in the current configuration. Trade negotiations are an issue of sovereignty and the EU must also recognise that for a region as diverse as the Pacific, a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not be effective. We must be cognisant of the nuances in the differing trade and development interests amongst the Pacific ACP States and formulate a dynamic, innovative and meaningful trade arrangement that can cater for the interests of the region.
- Pacific ACP Leaders will be meeting in Papua New Guinea on 8 September this year, and the discussion on the EPA is expected to be on the agenda. The Leaders have directed the region to negotiate a deal on a development friendly agreement and it is important that this meeting clearly articulates the regional interests in the EPA and facilities the process for our Ministers to make critical decisions for high level political consideration.
- At the end of the Ministerial meeting this Friday, PACPS will need to agree on the final and complete package that the Pacific region could offer to the EU, particularly in terms of addressing the redlines on fisheries conservation and management. We will not get another opportunity to meet as a region to deliberate on these issues and it is vital that these important decisions are reached at this meeting.
- Your discussions today will need to be very focused allowing for the formulation of clear and concise recommendations to be put forward to our Ministers and Leaders. I look forward to your constructive engagement to support the region’s efforts in deliberating on a way forward in the PACP-EU Comprehensive EPA negotiations.
- Thank you and I wish you well in your deliberations.