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Groups Call For End Of Pacific Trade Negotiations

New Report On Pacific EPA Calls For End To 'Russian Roulette' In Trade Negotiations With Pacific

SUVA (PANG/Arena/Pacific Media Watch): "The current EPA negotiations are a game of Russian roulette where the casualties will be the people of the Pacific Islands," said Professor Jane Kelsey at the release of A People¹s Guide to the Pacific¹s Economic Partnership Agreement in Suva today.

The report was commissioned by the World Council of Churches Office in the Pacific to provide a resource that will allow churches, NGOs, trade unions, politicians, and others in the Pacific Islands with the knowledge to intervene critically and effectively in the negotiating process.

"The negotiations between the European Commission and the seven African Caribbean and Pacific regions are a way for the European powers to redefine their relationship with their former colonies, especially Africa. This will allow them to refocus their attention within Europe and elsewhere and placate pressure from other governments within the World Trade Organisation

"The old colonial mentality hasn¹t changed," Professor Kelsey observed. "European powers are clothing their self-interest in the rhetoric of development, backed with the lure of aid.²

"They are insisting that trade preferences are replaced with reciprocal trade access and commitments are made on services and investment that exceed existing WTO rules. Loss of tariffs will potentially devastate the revenues and fragile economies of ACP countries, The most serious trade impacts for the Pacific will be on exports of sugar and canned tuna," said Professor Kelsey.

"The main justification is that it will improve efficiency and help them to integrate into the global economy. There is no evidence to support this and no genuine social impact studies have been prepared.

"The involvement of the Pacific Islands is an accident of colonial history. Their needs and priorities are likely to remain peripheral, especially when the EC is concerned about setting adverse precedents.²

The report describes the Pacific ACP strategy, set out in The Way Forward, as ambitious and unduly optimistic.

"The strategy aims to avoid negotiations on trade in goods and seeks high-risk agreements on services and investment. It is designed primarily to avoid triggering parallel negotiations with Australia and New Zealand under PACER, which Pacific Islands governments belatedly recognize will devastate their economies. Yet there is no apparent fall back position if the Europeans decline to go along."

"All this is being done to an impossible deadline of December 2007, dictated by the Commission and the WTO. There has been no assessment of the social impacts and implications for future policy choices. If they continue down this path the Pacific Islands will be locked into a Œdevelopment¹ model of globalization which they cannot survive. Yet their hands will be tied."

Professor Kelsey calls for Pacific Island governments to reject the EPA and pursue the alternatives of ŒEverything But Arms¹ and the General System of Preferences that are available to them.

"The threat posed by PACER should be addressed head on by withdrawing en masse and insisting on new negotiations that approach take a less ideological approach to regional integration and Pacific development.

"I am acutely aware that this critique could be used as a justification for governments to say 'no' to the EPAs and PACER, and do nothing. To the contrary, the region faces very real challenges that need to be addressed with some urgency².

The report calls on governments to empower the people whose lives are most directly affected to help define a Pacific-centred development agenda that is appropriate and realistic. It challenges those who have been calling for such an agenda, including the Pacific churches in Islands of Hope to take the lead in that debate.

Contact: j.Kelsey



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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