Opening Remarks by the Chair of the Pacific ACP Trade Officials Meeting 2021

Delivered by the Chair of the Forum Trade Officials Meeting, Permanent Secretary for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport for Fiji, Mr Shaheen Ali.

08 July 2021


Deputy Secretary-General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Pacific ACP Senior Trade Officials

Representative of the CROP Agencies

Representatives of Technical Agencies and Development Partners

Ladies and Gentlemen

Bula Vinaka and welcome to the Pacific ACP Trade Officials’ Meeting.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a shift in the way meetings are conducted globally – our region is no different. The last time we met physically, was in Fiji in February 2020. Since then, we have embraced significant changes during these unprecedented uncertain times, and I am certain that the new normal will not diminish to inspire future potentials of the region.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the last PACP Trade meetings, it was decided that the PACP Trade Officials and Ministers Forum will be regularised and re-named, to provide a platform to discuss trade and development matters, beyond ACP-EU issues. This has been a vital step for our Region. A step that will enable engagement with other trading partners that suit the development aspirations of the Region.

Colleagues, with the conclusion of the Post-Cotonou negotiations, we have the opportunity to align with the Pacific Leaders decision of 2019, to expand the scope of the PACP meetings.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Regionalism and regional solidarity is more critical now, than ever. We need to move forward as a regional group – with similar issues and concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the deepest economic recession in nearly a century, threatening health, disrupting economic activity, and hurting jobs.

The pandemic has affected almost all countries and economic sectors. For Small island developing states (SIDS) like us – our striving to fight and recover from the impact of COVID-19 is an uphill battle.

It has disrupted global supply chains, weakened demand for imported goods and services and caused a major drop in international tourism. In 2018, 3.16 million tourists arrived in the Pacific, generating US$3.8 billion, or 11.1 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and more than 130,000 jobs. COVID-19, however, has brought the tourism sector to a halt.

We have lost a lot of ground however, our recovery is possible, especially as a collective regional bloc. And together we must explore solutions and strategies to recommence tourism and travel in the region.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The contribution of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to the economies of the Pacific region is significant. However, supply chain disruptions and measures taken to contain the virus’ spread have hit MSMEs and entrepreneurs particularly hard.

On the positive side, it is also important to note that the COVID crisis has massively accelerated some pre-existing trends, in particular digitalisation. It has shaken the world, setting in motion waves of change with a wide range of possible solutions.

Innovation is increasingly essential for an effective response to and recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic. There is a need to challenge existing norms and practices to address the urgent needs generated by COVID-19. There is also a need to refocus the development needs of our region for the future challenges that undoubtedly await.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We will discuss in our meeting today the political agreement reached on the Post Cotonou Agreement in December last year and the initialing of the Agreement in April this year. The plan is for the new agreement to be signed by all parties in Samoa towards the end of 2021, when the Cotonou Agreement is due to expire. Like its predecessor, the new Partnership Agreement will last for 20 years.

The manner in which the Agreement was negotiated depicts that the relationship has profoundly changed since the time of Lomé Agreements. The preferential dimension of the Lomé has gradually eroded and the relationship between EU and the ACP lost its “uniqueness”.

The ACP-EU trade regime was profoundly overhauled to comply with free-trade rules. The termination of the European Development Fund (EDF) and the end of joint management has resulted in all development funds to be put in one bucket or envelope and allocated in accordance with priorities under the agreement. Thus, development aid may no longer be at the heart of the partnership.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The new agreement will not change the current trading arrangements between the EU and PACP. PACP-EU cooperation historically has had a strong trade component offering us preferential access to the EU market. You would recall that the 2000 Cotonou Partnership Agreement brought an end to unilateral EU trade preferences by 2008, and introduced the Economic Partnership Agreements.

Despite the conclusion of the Post Cotonou negotiations, a number of major questions remain unanswered. What will the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) change have compared to the EDF? How will joint institutions be funded? And what are the consequences of this agreement for the PACP[1][1]EU partnership in the years to come?

The EU has been a crucial development partner of our Region. However, it has also taken harmful unilateral actions by declaring some of our tax jurisdictions unfavourable and our fisheries unsustainable.

Therefore, it is imperative that we discuss the possible impact of the Successor to the Cotonou Partnership Agreement to the region and reflect on how we can safeguard trade by reinvigorating the Comprehensive EPA negotiations.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We will also discuss today the recommendations made in the “Comprehensive Review of Trade Arrangements Report”, on the modernisation of PICTA and PICTA Rules of Origin and look at options for strengthening trade with other partners, such as Asia, United States of America, and the United Kingdom.

Against this backdrop, in an effort to accelerate recovery of the Pacific Region from this crisis and better prepare for the future, there is a need to design innovative ideas on how to improve trade agreements and build back better.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In addition to reviewing existing trade agreements to better suit our development needs, it is vital that we also protect our interests in the multilateral arena. The most critical agreement currently being negotiated is the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement, with a view to consulting Trade Ministers on 15 July 2021.

However, global talks to reign in fisheries subsidies are failing to hold large, rich and powerful subsidisers accountable while unfairly shifting the burden onto vulnerable fishing communities. The types of flexibilities offered to Small Island Developing States like us fail to fulfill the SDG mandate.

The S&DT proposed for developing countries is time-bound and largely only applies to fishing up to 12 nautical miles of the coastline. Thus, affecting our support to small-scale fishers or to develop greater domestic fleet capacity.

Therefore, it is critical that we push for outcomes that protect the livelihoods of small[1][1]scale fishers and the sovereign rights of our countries to manage our waters.

It is time for Pacific to come together in solidarity and demand that the WTO addresses our concerns in the Fisheries Subsidy agreement. Fisheries and fishing are not just an industry, it’s our culture and our way of life – let’s not compromise it.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our presence here today illuminates our strong partnership and commitment to re-engagement and re-definition of our regionalism.

I must reiterate that, that in this turbulent time, the only certainty is the uncertainty that we face. Hence, in order to overcome that challenge before us, we need to be steadfast, we need to be unified, and committed.

Our thoughts need to be re-engineered, re-designed and innovative, to bring our economies back to pre-COVID levels and set us up for growth and progress in the future.

With these words, I wish you all fruitful deliberations.

Thank you and Vinaka vakalevu!


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