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EPA with Europe in doubt

Islands Business | Suva (Fiji) | 5 January 2007


Constant ’red lines’ may force islands out of negotiations

Samisoni Pareti

Intransigence of positions and unfolding of more "red lines" by bureaucrats at the European Commission (EC) could jeopardise the region’s hopes of securing an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, outgoing chief negotiator of the Pacific, Kaliopate Tavola has warned.

In a strongly worded letter addressed to the EC’s director-general for development, Stefano Manservisi, and its deputy director-general for trade, Karl Falkenberg, Tavola who was ousted as Fiji’s foreign minister following the coup in Fiji last month, warned that the Pacific would not negotiate "under pressure".

"We will not merely rush to conclude negotiations due to the deadline and risk ending up with a bad EPA," a draft of Tavola’s letter leaked to this magazine said.

"That would be disastrous. We will therefore continue to negotiate earnestly and in good faith.

"However, we have to start seeing some substantial and positive gains to convince us that we are on the right track and that there will be real benefits that will accrue to us."

Contacted at his Suva home late last month, Tavola was surprised that ISLANDS BUSINESS had obtained a copy of his letter.

He declined to elaborate, saying he’s no longer the chief negotiator and any comment should come from the man who would succeed him, Minister Joachim Keil, of Samoa.

His warnings that the islands nations would not negotiate under duress was reflected by Oxfam International.

In a new report released to counter the EC’s position as articulated in a letter to Tavola dated October 20, 2006 (the copy of Tavola’s response we had acquired), Oxfam noted that the reciprocal nature of the proposed trade agreement between the Pacific and Europe would only benefit the larger and more wealthier market.

"A reciprocal agreement between such unequal regions may have the same rules for each party, but the results will favour the EU over ACP countries," said the Oxfam report titled ’Slamming the Door on Development.’

"The comparison is that of putting a schoolboy in a boxing ring with a heavyweight pro.

"Even if the schoolboy is given a few extra points on the scorecard, the basic rules of boxing are the same for each, and the boy will get beaten up every time.

"As the EC’s own website explains, ’Our experience tells us that FTAs between a large market like the EU and small economies are not easily sustainable and often lead to a deficit for the weaker partners’."

Accusing the EU of being "dismissive and patronising" in its response to some of the Pacific’s key positions, Oxfam suggested the region should drop EPA in favour of a better alternative.

"The refusal of the EU to negotiate a developmentally-sound EPA means the focus should now shift to seriously investigating alternatives.

"Article 37.6 of the Cotonou Agreement clearly spells out that the EU is required to offer ACP countries an alternative to EPA.

"For example, an enhanced GSP (General System of Preferences) for small and vulnerable economies, including the Pacific countries, could be more development-friendly as well as being WTO compatible.

"The EU has failed to honour its commitments to promote development cooperation, sustainable development and human rights in EPA negotiations.

"Almost all of the Pacific’s attempts to convert the rhetoric into reality through the negotiations have been rejected.

"The EPA is clearly not going to deliver on these commitments.

"It is therefore time for the Pacific to make a strong call for alternatives."

The Oxfam report interestingly was only released last month.

Yet in his November 8 response to Marservisi and Falkenberg, Tavola did hint about the possibility of some islands countries moving away from any EPA negotiation especially if the EU says no to "Mode 4"-a reference to a guest worker scheme.

"For a number of the PACPs (Pacific ACP states), Mode 4 is perhaps their priority interest.

"If the EPA is silent on this, then we can envisage reluctance on their part to be signatories to any EPA.

"We recognise that the EC may not have the complete competence to conclude any negotiations on this matter.

"In areas where the competence lies with EU member states, we would certainly welcome your facilitation.

"However, the PACPs will need more than what you are suggesting.

"The PACPs cannot negotiate with relevant individual EU Member States, because of resource constraint.

"We would look to the EC to represent our case to these countries on our behalf.

"In any case, our submission has been based on skilled people and not unskilled people as you mentioned."

Fishing though was in Tavola’s mind-the issue that would either make or break any future EPA with Europe. Its insistence on a bilateral instead of a multilateral fisheries agreement "is going to cause so much difficulties", the former Pacific chief negotiator said.

"Your preference for bilateral fisheries agreements rather than a multilateral fisheries partnership agreement, which is our preference, and which is the mechanism that will bring much development, technology, infrastructure, jobs, HRD (human resource development), etc; to the PACPs is going to represent the nadir of our development cooperation.

"Collectively, the PACPs have in their EEZs (exclusive economic zones) the largest tuna stocks in the world.

"These vulnerable micro-states that comprise the PACP hold great expectations that these collective natural resources will be the key to their development that will facilitate their integration into the global economy which, to date, has been so unkind to them, given the inequity of the global trading and capitalistic systems.

"However, if at the end of these negotiations, the EU will only be interested in its access to the stocks, rather than assisting the PACPs develop the tuna stocks for their own development interests, then it would certainly be a sad day for our long-established cooperation."

Being a seasoned diplomat, Tavola attempted to hide any hint of frustrations in his dealings with non-politicians.

"Whilst I am in agreement with further discussions, I believe that politicians have to be brought increasingly into the negotiations now," the draft Tavola letter said.

"This view, I know, is not favoured by some of your officials. The politicians, however, carry the mandate of the PACPs. Technical niceties and packaging of issues that do not meet the mandate will not illicit the political endorsement needed to conclude the EPA."

The Oxfam report contained similar nuances as it noted the repeated warning in the Marservisi and Falkenberg letter on the need to wrap up EPA negotiations by December 2007.

The EC emphasised that the 31 December 2007 deadline to conclude the EPA has to be respected.

"It notes that "we are now at a crossroad" and suggests that negotiators on both sides "redouble their efforts to accelerate the process of convergence towards a common ’landing zone’.

"This prodding from the EU will be particularly galling for the Pacific negotiators who, with relatively limited resources, have made every effort to move quickly only to be forced to wait over three months for a three-page response to their detailed proposals," the Oxfam report says.

 source: Islands Business