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Speech: Tuiloma Neroni Slade - Pacific ACP Trade Meeting

Tuiloma Neroni Slade,
Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat,
9 August 2011
Speech Notes

Speech to
The Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting,
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Honourable Vice-President of Kiribati,
Honourable Deputy Prime Minister of Cook Islands,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community,
Distinguished Officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We rather have a crowded agenda, with important matters to deliberate on, and Chairman we call again on your guidance and stewardship.

Given the state of the negotiations, this is a particularly significant opportunity for the Trade Ministers of the Pacific ACP countries to discuss issues of interest and concern relating to the Pacific ACP – European Union Economic Partnership Agreement and provide directions to the Regional Negotiating Machinery.

The agenda provides key issues for your specific consideration. Ministers, the Pacific ACP Countries and the European Commission have been negotiating the PACP-EU EPA since 2004. Two countries, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have signed on to an Interim EPA to protect their key exports to the EU. However, all the Pacific ACP Countries continue their engagement, as a single region, in the negotiation of a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, at Pacific ACP Leaders’ direction. The Pacific ACP States and the European Commission agree that the interim Agreement is a stepping stone towards a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, and that is the basis for our continued engagement. We need to ensure that the comprehensive Agreement provides the Pacific ACP States an improved framework and greater market access relative to the interim Agreement.

I will provide you with an update on developments in the Pacific ACP-EU negotiations, following on from the update that was provided to you in February this year when we met in Apia. You will have before you the recommendations of the Pacific ACP Trade Officials on the way forward on key EPA negotiation issues.

Ministers, as you are aware, the European Commission indicated to us several times that they will not be interested in meeting with the Pacific region or offering the region flexibilities on contentious issues unless the region submitted revised market access offers in the required format. I am pleased to inform you that we now have eight PACP States that have submitted their conditional market access offers to the EU, and work continues in the remaining four countries to develop their market access offers. This now empowers the PACP region to demand of the European Commission reciprocal focus and seriousness about the negotiations and show flexibility. The offers submitted by these eight countries are conditional on the satisfactory resolution of a number of unresolved contentious issues, including the issue of development cooperation provisions, export taxes, infant industry, standstill clause, the Most-Favoured Nation provisions, the non-execution clause, taxation and governance issues, market access and rules of origin for fisheries products, and other matters of great importance to the Pacific.

Honourable Ministers, yesterday we had quite a detailed/productive discussion on the fisheries issues and we now have recommendations from the Joint Fisheries’ and Trade Ministers’ meeting. Today, we need to consider those recommendations in light of other provisions of the Pacific ACP-EU EPA negotiations. As you are aware, a number of Pacific ACP States have indicated that their market access offers to the European Union in the context of a comprehensive EPA is contingent upon securing global sourcing rules of origin for fresh and frozen fish. The contentious issues are intricately linked to the overall negotiations, and Ministerial direction is needed for us to determine on the way forward.

The Technical Working Group on Legal, Institutional and Capacity Building issues met in June, and based on the directions provided by the PACP Trade Ministers meeting of February 2011, the draft legal text was further revised incorporating the PACP proposals. The revised draft PACP-EU EPA text was sent to the European Commission on 15 July 2011 and we await their response on the proposed amendments.

Honourable Ministers, we are now at that juncture of the negotiations where we need to look into all the unresolved contentious issues and determine the impact that these issues would have on our economies if they stay unresolved. Consequently, we need to collectively make decisions on whether there could be any movements in the Pacific ACP redlines, and what, if any, the fall back positions may be. I hope that we will arrive at some consensus decisions on the matter, as it is important for the Pacific ACP region to determine the flexibility that can be safely applied to the Pacific ACP-EU EPA negotiations.

Ministers, we also have to consider a proposal from the Kava producing countries suggesting that we actively pursue with the European Commission, through the current negotiations, the lifting of the ban that is currently imposed by a number of European Union Members on the import of kava. The kava industry is certainly very important in a number of Pacific ACP States and has the potential of channelling development benefits at the grassroots level. We need to determine the best way forward in supporting this initiative.

Ministers, we will be considering a way forward in our negotiations, including a revised Roadmap to take us to their conclusion. We will also be considering country papers from Papua New Guinea and Fiji at this meeting

It is also necessary to look at the structure and location of the Pacific Trade and Development Facility, including a formula for voluntary Pacific island country contributions to this facility as well as the progress made to refresh and renew the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy and a Roadmap for future work. These are important foundations that we need to lay in the region so that we are able to effectively utilise the aid that the Pacific ACP States receive for the development of trade in the region.

Honourable Ministers, allow me to highlight the fact that the PACP States have long recognised the importance of deepening regional trade integration as a means to create jobs, enhance private sector growth, raise standards of living and advance the region’s sustainable economic development. Over the past years, the Secretariat has afforded significant technical and financial resources to help member governments pursue their various trade integration objectives. The Pacific ACP States have been involved in these negotiations since 2004, and it is crucial that we now look into ways of bringing the negotiations to a close and focus on the implementation of the EPA so that our people can derive the benefits. We will need the political will to resolve some of the contentious issues and your guidance on this matter will be very much appreciated.

Before I conclude, Honourable Ministers, I draw your attention to the milestone 40th birthday of the Pacific Islands Forum that we are celebrating this year. Four decades ago, to the very day over the weekend actually, the founding Leaders of what we now know as the Pacific Islands Forum – then the South Pacific Forum - came together to deepen their engagement and discussion on political issues of significance to the newly independent states of the Pacific. Forty years on, our resolve to strengthen regional cooperation and integration remains strong. In areas such as trade, and in particular, our region’s negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union for instance, we must remain strong, and remain smart, as one region. This milestone anniversary presents not only an opportunity to celebrate our regional efforts and endeavours to date, but also seek from our Leaders further guidance on the way forward. Today we seek from you, Honourable Ministers, guidance on trade issues of vital importance to the future of our region. I wish you well in your deliberations.


ENDS

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