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Pacific must better demand on EPA: Forum

Pacific must better demand on EPA: Forum

18 May 2007

Pacific Islands Countries need to develop technically sound demands in negotiating the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) says Deputy Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, Peter Forau.

Speaking at the opening of the Meeting of Pacific ACP (PACP) Trade Ministers in Nadi yesterday, Forau said for an EPA to be beneficial to Pacific ACP States (PACPS) "it has to offer better preferences than in the alternative options and assured terms and conditions."

An EPA is a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and the ACP countries. They stem from continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal preferential trade agreements offered by the EU to the ACP that have been found to be are incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Forau said the PACP States and other ACP regions are challenged by a binding deadline to conclude an EPA before December 31, 2007.

"This deadline is mandatory, but we owe our people, whose mandate this work is relevant, an EPA that promises tangible returns that exceed what might be considered modest."

Forau told the Ministers, the Pacific Islands are required to account for the interests of the EU as well, and that compels the submission of offers.

"This is what is called reciprocity," he said.

"That’s why we need to be strategic and develop not only intelligent but technically sound demands and offers as well."

Some academics and activists have continually highlighted the need for PACP States to demand better trade alternatives than what is currently offered in the EPAs.

Academic Dr Wadan Narsey in a 2004 paper said PACP have been negotiating EPA’s with the EU "from weak bargaining positions."

Pacific Civil Society groups participating in the Pacific Trade and Education Programme (PTEP) in Samoa last month challenged the EU to either "negotiate a trade deal in the Pacific that is to the benefit of the Pacific’s people or to offer alternatives that are at least as good as the current trade regime."

"The EU has so far failed to live up to their rhetoric that the Economic Partnership Agreement should be an instrument for development," said the chief executive of the Samoa Umbrella for Non Governmental Organisations (SUNGO) Roina F. Vavatau.

"Despite repeated letters over the past nine months, the EU has still so far failed to respond constructively to the Pacific’s proposals.

"It is ridiculous that they are still insisting on a deadline for conclusion of negotiations by the end of this year."

While Pacific NGO’s have been blatantly calling on the EU to reform their current negotiation tactics, the Forum is more diplomatic over the issue.

"It is also important to bear in mind that we have a track record of cordial partnership with the EU founded on the Lome Convention and recently extenuated under the Cotonou Agreement," Forau told the ministers yesterday.

"Let’s also find lessons in that partnership that perhaps might succour the region’s efforts to secure a beneficial EPA."

The meeting will also discuss the Pacific Island Trade Agreement (PICTA), an update on World Trade Organisation issues, and the position of Chief Negotiator for the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.

There are concerns that the current EPA negotiations between PACP States and the EU have triggered the coming into force of PACER, but the Forum and the PACP States have contested this.

The two-day meeting is being chaired by the Fiji Interim Government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.