Preparations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union (EU) and fourteen Pacific Island Countries are coming to the crucial stage. The proposals have been submitted and real negotiations are about to start. The EU is pushing the Pacific to accept rapid trade liberalisation across a huge range of goods, services and investment rules, while the Pacific is responding with proposals that would make the agreement more developmentally friendly.
These negotiations are part of the Cotonou Agreement, the successor to the Lomé Convention that was established as a partnership between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. The EU is mounting pressure for the negotiations to be concluded by December 2007.
Although time is running out, there are still opportunities for the Pacific to develop real alternatives to an EPA. This is especially important given the need for developing countries to maintain common positions in the wake of the suspension of Doha negotiations in the World Trade Organisation.
These negotiations are important, not only in their own right, but because they will set the tone for the Pacific’s subsequent trade agreements with their major trading partners, Australia and New Zealand.
It is already clear that an EPA agreement will have wide ranging impacts on Pacific businesses, natural resources, social well-being and cultures. However, there has been no comprehensive research to analyse what the impacts are likely to be, and a quick assessment commissioned by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, to be undertaken over the next few months, will do little to provide negotiators with the crucial information they need to be able to negotiate in the interests of the Pacific’s people.
The information that is currently available has so far been restricted to a few trade negotiators and Trade Ministers. There has been little opportunity for input from other government departments, Parliaments, civil society or small business. Nor has there been a programme of education to facilitate a wider process of public understanding and involvement.
This short summary of issues focuses on the most recent negotiating documents, particularly the draft “legal text” that was prepared by Pacific negotiators after their meeting in June 2006. It aims to provide a “non-technical” overview to inform Pacific civil society of progress in negotiations.