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Nauru leads the charge on EPAs

Solomon Star, Solomon Islands

Nauru leads the charge on EPAs

28 September 2009

The stalled negotiations on the EU-inspired Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Forum Island Countries finally resumed in Brussels.

This is after almost exactly one year to the day after the two sides last met in September 2008.

And leading the charge for the Pacific Island Countries in the opening round was Nauru’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Robert Sisilo.

In his opening remarks, Mr Sisilo told negotiators of the European Commission (EC) that his region never underestimated the difficulties of reaching agreement on the precise wording in the EPA text.

For these are often complex technical and legal issues that bear on the individual needs and interest of all the 14 Forum Island Countries. And a meeting of minds must somehow take place to resolve them.

“It was always essential for us to meet again at the earliest opportunity to resolve the remaining contentious issues so that we could move forward as soon as possible to the all-important task of actually building the partnership.” Mr Sisilo told the EC.

These contentious issues include export taxes, infant industry provisions, the Most-Favoured Nation provisions, trade commitments to third parties, the non-execution clause and inclusion in the EPA of duty-free, quota-free access for fresh chilled and frozen fish.

When asked how long the negotiations will take, Mr Sisilo responded that “this will very much depend on the extent to which these contentious issues are effectively and adequately addressed.

The last thing we would like to do is to sign up to an agreement only to realise 5 years down the road that it did not deliver.”

Mr Sisilo recalled that when the EPA negotiations were launched in September 2002, the EC had always insisted these would be regionally based to better cater for the specific circumstances of each region.

“Bearing that in mind, we will therefore be looking to the EC to demonstrate maximum flexibility to cater for the special circumstances of our region. In doing so, it will be necessary to ensure that the regional EPA will truly reflect the regional particularities of the Pacific and be designed to enable us, together, build the partnership over time and to achieve the objectives set out in the Cotonou Agreement.” Mr Sisilo said.