European Union Remains Committed to Economic Partnership in the Pacific

May 20, 2015. In September 2004, the EU started negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Pacific region. More than ten years later, negotiations are still far from conclusion. Bearing in mind Pacific States’ sensitivities on fisheries and Pacific plans to review fisheries resources management in the region, EU Trade Commissioner Malmstr?m has suggested to await the outcome of that review and to return to the would-be comprehensive regional EPA in three years’ time. Meanwhile, the EU is continuing to implement faithfully the Economic Partnership Agreement concluded in 2007 with Papua New Guinea and Fiji, and which has an accession clause for other Pacific countries ? big or small ? that wish to join this agreement.

Despite recent claims to the contrary, the European Union remains firmly committed to Economic Partnership in the Pacific.

In September 2004, the European Union started negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Pacific region. More than ten years later, negotiations are still far from conclusion.

The Pacific region has disagreed with EU positions on proper fisheries governance and the sustainable management of Pacific fishery resources. However, these issues are an indispensable part of any comprehensive regional EPA. Sustainable development, as enshrined in the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, is a key issue for the EU. In the Pacific region, this includes the sustainable management of fishery resources.

Bearing in mind Pacific States’ sensitivities on fisheries and Pacific plans to review fisheries resources management in the region, EU Trade Commissioner Malmstr?m has suggested to await the outcome of that review and to return to the would-be comprehensive regional EPA in three years’ time. The three-year period would correspond with the time span that the Pacific region itself has indicated for its review. The Trade Commissioner’s proposal was sent to all competent Pacific Ministers so that it could be duly considered at the appropriate political level. Pending a Pacific Ministerial decision, the Commissioner is still awaiting a reply to her proposal.

It is therefore not correct to take the EU Trade Commissioner’s proposal as a sign of EU “reluctance” or unwillingness to meet and negotiate. Far from unilaterally suspending the negotiations, the Trade Commissioner has invited her Ministerial counterparts to reflect on a way out of the current stalemate. Instead of putting pressure on the Pacific partners, the Commissioner has suggested a suitable period of time for such reflection and review.

The Press Release from the Pacific Islands Forum dated 15 May 2015 clearly does not acknowledge this, nor does it recognise the EU’s efforts over the years to conclude comprehensive EPA negotiations in the Pacific. The Press Release also omits that the conditions for a successful conclusion of these negotiations are currently far from being met. It seeks to put the blame for the current stalemate exclusively at the EU’s door, but does not suggest any constructive way forward, other than more meetings.

The EU will respectfully await a formal reply to the proposal made by its Trade Commissioner. The EU continues to view the Pacific as a privileged partner and not just in the area of trade. In the trade field, the EU is continuing to implement faithfully the Economic Partnership Agreement concluded in 2007 with Papua New Guinea and Fiji, and which has an accession clause for other Pacific countries ? big or small ? that wish to join it.

PRESS RELEASE