Secretary General Meg Taylor’s Opening Remarks at the Special Pacific ACP Trade and Fisheries Ministers Meeting

Suvavou House

Suva, Fiji

17 July 2015

The Acting Prime Minister, Attorney-General and Minister for Finance, Public Enterprises, Public Service and Communications for the Government of Fiji – Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum;
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for the Government of Samoa – Honourable Nuafesili Pierre Fonotoe Lauofo;
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Commerce, Tourism, Co-operatives and Ni-Vanuatu Business for the Government of Vanuatu – Honourable Moana Carcasses Kalosil;
Honourable Trade and Fisheries Ministers from the Pacific ACP region;
Senior Trade and Fisheries Officials;
Representatives of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, the Office of the Parties to the NauruAgreement (PNA), the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation and Office of the Chief Trade Adviser
Ladies and gentlemen

  1. May I firstly extend our sincere appreciation to the Government of Fiji for your usual warm hospitality and excellent meeting arrangements.
  2. This being my first Trade and Fisheries Ministers Meeting as the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, may I also acknowledge the hard work of our senior trade and fisheries officials and technical agencies who met yesterday and have provided a detailed set of recommendations for our consideration at this meeting.
  3. Honourable Ministers, I would like to recall the words of the then Secretary General, Greg Urwin, during the launch of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations in 2004 where he stated that: “the process we are embarking upon is a recognition of the important principle that trade does not take place just for trade’s sake, but that it is a vehicle for furthering regional, national and individual development objectives.”
  4. Today, more than a decade later, we gather for this Pacific ACP Trade and Fisheries Ministerial Meeting to decide on the future of this long negotiation of the comprehensive EPA.
  5.  As we consider the future of this negotiation, the Pacific region has also embarked on a new process for regionalism through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, the successor to the Pacific Plan, as endorsed by Pacific Leaders in July 2014. Just a day ago, the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism concluded a three day long analysis of all regional initiatives submitted through the Framework. The regional initiatives identified from this process will be considered by our Leaders at their meeting in Port Moresby in September.

6. A clear message from the consultations in the 2013 review of the Pacific Plan was that there is a strong appetite for regionalism across the Pacific. And that deeper regionalism needed to be driven by our Leaders with regional priorities based on important discussions about sharing sovereignty, opening borders, sharing markets and norms and standards.
7. I have visited 13 Forum member countries since formally taking up office 7 months ago. The challenges faced by Member States vary but the urgency with which these challenges must be addressed are apparent.
8. The Smaller Island States in particular face numerous yet common challenges. Regional initiatives should be developed with these States in mind.
9. A key driver of the continuation of the negotiation of a comprehensive EPA by Pacific ACP Leaders is that a comprehensive agreement would best address the concerns of the wider Pacific ACP membership, in particular the Smaller Island States and Least Developed economies in our region. The collective voice and strength of all Member States would achieve a better agreement for all.
10. A key objective of today’s meeting is for the PACP region to determine how the comprehensive EPA negotiations are going to be concluded, and provide advice on a clear way forward for the consideration of the Pacific ACP Leaders when they meet on 8 September in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
11. Honourable Ministers, we have reached a defining cross-road in this negotiation and we must now consider, as a region, the merits of continuing this negotiation and any further flexibility we may be able to show in the PACP position. This requires a careful and thorough debate on the costs and benefits of the comprehensive EPA process relative to the alternative trading arrangements available to the region. We must also consider the framework for our future engagement with the European Union as we near the expiration of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement in 2020.
12. There is no doubt that the European Union is a valued trade and development partner for the Pacific region and Pacific ACP States have always negotiated in good faith to conclude a development-oriented comprehensive EPA. It is most unfortunate that the European Union’s entrenched position on certain aspects of the EPA has led to the current impasse in the negotiations.
13. The European Union Trade Commissioner in her recent written communication to the Pacific region in March this year proposed a three year deferment in the EPA negotiations citing the outstanding contentious issues on fisheries conservation and management as the key reason. The European Union also referenced the completion of the review of the PNA Vessel Day Scheme as a basis for its proposal for deferment.
14. However, in response to the Pacific ACP States’ strong disappointment with the European Union’s proposal, the EU has stated in a few fora recently that the deferment of the EPA negotiations is a proposal by the EU, and not a decision. It is therefore hoped that the EU will agree to the PACP proposal for a final negotiating session to discuss the conclusion of the EPA.
15. The Pacific region has received tremendous support for our negotiation from the ACP States and we are sincerely grateful for their solidarity with the Pacific ACP States.
16. It is clear that the focus of this negotiation has shifted from one centered on development of the Pacific region to a technical debate on fisheries conservation and management measures applied in Pacific waters. The European Commission continues to demand very specific amendments to the Vessel Day Scheme – a scheme that has brought significant economic returns for Pacific peoples.
17. It is particularly disappointing that the European Commission has conditioned any further progress of the comprehensive EPA negotiations in any of the Chapters, on commitments by the Pacific region in the area of fisheries.
18. Fisheries constitute the single most valuable shared resource for Pacific economies and can be the key driver of sustainable economic development for many Pacific ACP States. The combined exclusive economic zone of the PNA States make up 14.8 million square kilometers and a conservative estimate of the commercial value of this fishery is approximately USD 2 – 3 billion.
19. Taking into consideration the status of the negotiations, I seek the assistance of the PNA States to support this regional process and advise on key areas of possible convergence on the redline issues that are already being addressed at the national and sub-regional level.
20. I understand that our Officials have considered and debated, at length, options on the way forward to resolve the current impasse on the fisheries issues and these have been tabled as recommendations for your consideration.
21. The Cotonou Partnership Agreement expires in 2020. As yet, we do not know the shape or form of the successor to this agreement, if any. This meeting shall also consider the options available to the region in terms of what a future engagement with the EU would look like with and without a comprehensive EPA.
22. You will be aware that Pacific ACP Leaders met on two occasions in the past year to consider the developments in the comprehensive EPA negotiation:
• In the margins of the Pacific Leaders Forum in Koror, Palau in August 2014; and
• In the margins of the Third Conference of Developing Island States in Apia, Samoa, in September 2014.
23. Whilst the Leaders have maintained that every effort is to be made to conclude a comprehensive EPA negotiation, Pacific Leaders have also expressed a clear frustration with the progress of this ongoing negotiation.
24. We need to take definitive recommendations from your discussions today for the consideration and decision of the Leaders when they meet in Port Moresby.
25. In considering the way forward, the key issues which will be discussed today require careful consideration and are not easy decisions to make. They have strong implications on the process of regionalism as well as the future trade and development relationship between the Pacific and the European Union.

  1. I am encouraged by the representation of Ministers at this very key regional engagement. I strongly encourage a constructive exchange and debate on the issues at hand to ensure that the best possible way forward to the conclusion of the EPA is agreed to, and a clear recommendation to the Pacific ACP Leaders provided on this matter.
  2. I thank you and wish you well in your deliberations.


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