Honourable Fonotoe Lauofo Deputy Prime Minister for Samoa
Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Senior Trade Officials
Ladies and gentleman
Bula Vinaka and good morning to you all.
We gather today at a very crucial point in the Pacific ACP’s (PACP) trade and development agenda. I would like to thank you all for your presence here, and on behalf of the Fijian Government and on behalf the Fijian People, welcome you to Fiji and it is our great pleasure to host this Trade Ministers Meeting. This is the first time Fiji has hosted such a high-level meeting in almost 5 years, and I am happy to welcome you allback to our shores.
Over the next two days, our task is to discuss a number of issues that will set the course for the future of the PACP.
The matter of highest priority is our negotiations for a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or (EPA) with the European Union (EU). Such an EPA would secure and define the PACP’s trade and development relationship with one of the world’s largest market and a powerful economic bloc.
As a group, we have been negotiating thisEPA for10 long years. Now that we are finally approachingthe conclusion of these negotiations,it is more critical than ever that we continue to work together as a single region to conclude a favourableagreement with the EU.
Because if we ask ourselves the question, “Can we tolerate further extensions to the negotiations?”, our answer must surely be, “No.”
Honorable Ministers, I don’t think you need any reminding that the region does not have the time nor the resources to allow the negotiations to drag on.
We must make the European Union realise that we are serious about finalising acomprehensive EPA.
Our commitment is evident. PACP countries have submitted their Market Access Offers and have provided all the feedback sought by the European Union.
However, unfortunately this commitment has not been echoed by the Europeans. They have notbeen forthcoming with their responses to these submissions and seemunwilling or unable to match our drive. Rather than acknowledging the considerable progress we have made, the EU continues to make demands that we believe are counter-productive at this latestage in the negotiations.
HonourableMinisters, the message out of all of this is simple. It is up to us to achieve the outcome we want. We must rely onour work, our effort, and our collective and collaborative vision to negotiate afavourableEPA.
Because a comprehensive EPA is the future. There is no alternative available to carry the PACP-EU trade and development relationship forward.
Without a Comprehensive EPA, all Pacific ACP countries would risk their trade relations with the EU, which is especially important in the case of our fisheries. It’s as simple as that. Rather than leveraging our collective power as a region to negotiateour terms, our respective countries would be forced to accept trade agreements that could be altered or revoked unilaterally by the EU.
Our countries would also risk losing their “Development-Cooperation” relations with the EU, which are provided for under the Cotonou Agreement thatexpires in 2020. Financial and technical aid from the world’s largest economic bloc is too important for development in the region to leave to chance and uncertainty after this date.
Since the European Union has agreed to include Development-Cooperation in the EPA, it should be at the very core of the agreement. In other words, the agreement shouldn’t be about trade alone. The EPA needs to be a vehicle for sustainable development for the Pacific: to enable the region to best utilise its resources to attract onshore investment,encourage value addition, and drive up exports.
There is another important point that we must also consider. A comprehensive EPA would represent this region’s first partnership with a trading bloc of developed nations. If it is done right, itwould set a favourableprecedent for other trade agreements in the region, such as the PACER Plus Agreement with Australia and New Zealand, as well as subsequent agreements that could be negotiated by the Pacific ACP States.
Ladies and gentlemen, honorable ministers,
This leads me to another issue for discussion during our deliberations. Closely related to the need to include Development-Cooperation provisions in the EPA, we need to play a larger role in the way development aid flows into our region. We need to work together with our development partners to identify our needs and ensure that the available resources are prioritized accordingly.
It is important that the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy is in place to help define our long-term trade and infrastructure needs; however, the Strategy is not enough in itself. The Pacific Regional Trade and Development Facility (PRTDF), which has already been endorsed by us Trade Ministers, provides the best mechanismfor us – as a region -to identify our own development needs.
We cannot let others determine these needs and priorities. We need to finalise the Memorandum of Understanding on this Facility immediately. To show the EU that we have an institution in place that is developed by the Pacific for the Pacific, to be managed by the Pacific.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I alluded to earlier on, fish is an especially important export for Pacific ACP states. So it is worth returning to the EPA for a moment to discuss the global sourcing provisions for fresh, frozen and chilled fish and the Fisheries Chapter. These are absolutely key components of a development-friendly and balanced agreement.
Through global sourcing for the fisheries industry, the region will be able to pool its resources and enter into joint ventures to attract onshore investment and develop infrastructure. This will allow all the countries of our region to share the benefits of our fisheries more equally.
It is not acceptable, therefore, for the EU to try to tie global sourcing for fresh, frozen and chilled fish (as well as global sourcing for processed and cooked fish, which is already granted under the interim EPA),to gain access to our fisheries resources. The development benefits of global sourcing are obvious, and therefore global sourcing for these productsshould be extended to the comprehensive EPA without restriction.
The EU needs to recognise the fact that each Pacific country has sovereign rights over territorial and archipelagic waters and that we will not allow the EPA to be used to undermine these rights in any way.
The PACP States know how important it is to conserve and manage our valuable natural resources. As a region, we understand that a prosperous future depends upon being responsible with the resources we are blessed with, so that they can continue to support our peoples for generations to come. Our national, sub-regional and regional conservation policies are as good – if not better – than international measures and should not be undermined in the EPA.
During our discussions, I urge you once again to focus on achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. In terms of the EPA, we must keep in mind that the next round of PACP-EU technical negotiations in Brussels in June could be the last. By that time, our officials needs to be fully prepared to explore negotiation options, following our guidance, in order to progress and finalise a favourable EPA.
I also note that over the course of the next two days, there will be discussions on the outcomes of the Trade Officials Meetingheld earlier in the week, which included apart from EPA negotiation with the EU, a number of trade related issues, such as intra-PACP trade, andthe development of trade relations with China and the United States.
Ladies and Gentlemen, with those few words, Honorable Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary General, Honorable Minister, ladies and gentlemen, I wish the best in your deliberations. Welcome once again to Fiji and urge you to take time out and enjoy our world renowned Fijian hospitality.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.