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Pacific ACP Region’s Engagement In EPA With The EU

Remarks On Pacific ACP Region’s Engagement In EPA With The European Union

95th Session of the ACP Council of Ministers
Port Vila, Vanuatu

11-13 June 2012

by the Pacific ACP Lead Spokesperson on EPA

On behalf of the Pacific ACP region, I would like to provide this Meeting with a brief update on developments relating to the Pacific regional EPA negotiations with the European Commission.

Chair, the Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2000 between the ACP states and the European Union, put in place a trade cooperation framework aimed at liberalising trade between both parties and also specified that a new WTO compatible regime or an EPA must be agreed by the end of 2007. Against this backdrop, the Pacific ACP States commenced negotiations with the European Union in 2004, and it has been a long and challenging process for our region.

While two Pacific ACP States signed an interim EPA mainly to avoid market access disruption for their exports, it was always understood that the interim EPA would be a stepping stone towards a comprehensive EPA. This is clearly reflected in Article 69 of the Pacific-European Union interim EPA which commits all parties to the successful conclusion of a comprehensive EPA in line with the Cotonou Agreement and previous Ministerial Declarations and Conclusions. Our Pacific Leaders have reaffirmed this commitment and have mandated that we continue to negotiate a comprehensive EPA as a single region with the European Union which should be concluded by 2012.

Chair, it would be useful to recall a number of fundamental considerations that have provided the context against which the Pacific ACP region’s position has been put forward throughout the negotiations.

Firstly, the Pacific ACP region considers that the final or comprehensive EPA must be based on the objectives and principles enshrined in Title II, Chapter 1 of the Cotonou Agreement, that is, the EPA must go far beyond market access arrangements, and constitute a trade and development cooperation agreement that will form the basis for the elaboration of a true, strengthened and strategic partnership over time between the Pacific ACP region and the European Union.

Secondly, the special defining characteristics of most Pacific ACP States, such as their small size and dispersed nature, must be fully reflected not only in the negotiation process but particularly in the binding legal commitments assumed by the Pacific ACP States, including the pace at which they are to be implemented.

And thirdly, Pacific ACP States have a long history of regional cooperation which constitutes a fundamental principle of their economic and trade relations with third States. This was reaffirmed by Pacific ACP Leaders at their meetings in 2011 where Leaders directed the Pacific ACP states to continue negotiating a comprehensive EPA as a single region.

Chair, these unique challenges and characteristics defining the Pacific ACP region have significant economic, social and administrative implications that must be fully taken into account in the EPA negotiation process. The interim EPA as it currently stands does not satisfactorily address these fundamental considerations that I have just highlighted, and it is in this context that the Pacific ACP region’s proposals in the negotiations of a comprehensive and development friendly EPA must be viewed.

As I had informed Honorable Ministers at the last Council Meeting in December 2011, the Pacific ACP region had completed and submitted to the European Commission in July 2011 market access offers for seven Pacific ACP States, namely Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Tonga submitted its market access offers in 2010. In total 10 out of 14 Pacific ACP States have submitted market access offers to the Commission. The remaining four Pacific ACP States have finalized the technical work on their offers and these could be submitted to the Commission after the relevant national approval processes have been completed. Chair, the region has also revised its proposed Pacific ACP-European Union EPA text, which was been submitted to the EC in July 2011.

Chair, submission of these draft market access offers and the revised proposed EPA text demonstrates the region’s strong commitment to the successful and early conclusion of the EPA negotiations. However, despite completing this work and being prepared for the next joint negotiating session, the Commision has continually deferred meeting the Pacific region for a formal negotiating session since 2009. Furthermore, they have not responded to the Pacific’s proposals and market access offers submitted in July 2011. This has seriously threatened the possibility of concluding the negotiations on a comprehensive EPA as called for by Pacific ACP Leaders. Instead, the European Commission has been coercing the Pacific ACP region to accept the interim EPA.

The delay in resuming the negotiations has reduced the alternatives for several Pacific ACP States wishing to conclude a beneficial trading arrangement with the European Union given implications of the Commission’s proposal to amend EU market access regulation 1528/2007. In the Pacific region, Fiji could be forced to ratify the interim EPA if the region is not able to satisfactorily conclude a comprehensive EPA by 2014. Major industries in Fiji could face disruption and could collapse as they are dependent on duty free and quota free access to the European market. This scenario is highly possible given the Commission’s evasiveness to negotiate the comprehensive EPA with the Pacific, which will be an act of bad-faith on the part of Commission in these negotiations.

Chair, it is very obvious that by its actions, the Commission’s non-response to PACP requests for negotiations since 2009 suggests that the EU does not want to conclude negotiations on a comprehensive and development friendly EPA with the PACP region. It is in this regard that the Pacific ACP region urges the European Union and ACP States to work in a spirit of true partnership and focus on concluding the comprehensive EPAs, rather than the Commission unilaterally removing countries from Annex 1 and putting undue pressure on African and Pacific ACP States to hastily conclude an agreement without satisfactorily resolving the outstanding and contentious issues.

Chair, I would like at this juncture to commend the actions of the ACP Secretary General for a number of measures taken at political and parliamentary levels to advocate for the conclusion of the EPA negotiations, including support for the withdrawal of the proposed amendment to Market Access Regulation 1528/2007. I would also like to support that he maintain this momentum until the withdrawal of the regulation. I also request that he includes in his agenda the Pacific’s concern on the lack of engagement by the European Union in concluding a comprehensive EPA.

Chair, despite numerous approaches to the European Commission, we are now half way into 2012 and the Pacific ACP States have not met the Commission for a formal negotiating session since 2009. We can only move forward in this journey that we have embarked on if both sides meet for a formal negotiating session. We therefore look to the Commission to show good faith and negotiate a comprehensive EPA meaningfully, with flexibility, and in a spirit of compromise, while respecting both the objectives of partnership as set out in the Cotonou Agreement and the realities of the Pacific. The Pacific region is ready to move forward with substantive negotiations and we seek your support in getting the Commission to step up its engagement with the Pacific.

Chair, the Pacific ACP region will be submitting proposed text for a resolution regarding the Pacific’s concerns on the lack of commitment by the European Union to conclude a comprehensive EPA with the Pacific region, to be adopted by this Council meeting.

Honorable ‘Isileli Pulu
Lead Spokesperson for the Pacific ACP EPA negotiations
Minister of Labour, Commerce and Industries for Tonga

ENDS

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