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Pacific Tells EU – Conclude EPA Or We’re Out Fiji, June 12, 13

Pacific Islands Countries that are negotiating an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union have dropped a bombshell – conclude negotiations by the end of 2013 or we will withdraw from the entire negotiations all together. The EPA would give the Pacific nations duty free access to the EU market for all their tuna products and other products.

The ultimatum was conveyed to the European Union Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, in a letter dated June 4, 2013.

Islands Business magazine has obtained a copy of the letter in which the Pacific ACP (PACP) Lead Spokesperson on EPA negotiations, Dr. Viliami Uasike Latu, who is Tonga’s Minister for Commerce, Tourism and Labor, minced no words.

“We have a clear directive from our Leaders to conclude negotiations on a comprehensive EPA as a single region before the end of this year,” wrote Dr. Latu.

“We will be submitting our final report to our Leaders at their meeting in September 2013 and I am afraid that if no tangible progress is made before then - this could be the end of our 10-year long negotiating process.

“This would be disappointing, especially after spending so much time and money on this process. We have done everything possible on our end; we submitted all the market access offers and provided detailed responses to your questions on fisheries issues but it looks like there is no end to the ‘question and answer session.
“We have reached a point where we need to conclude this process one-way or the other.”

The lack of what Dr. Latu said “a timely response” from the EU on their EPA negotiations has clearly irked the Pacific members of the ACP bloc.

In addition, this strongly worded letter appears to be their official response to a recent speech to Pacific ACP Trade Ministers by the European Ambassador to the Pacific Andrew Jacobs in which he had accused the Pacific countries of being too inflexible in the negotiations.

Minister Latu – in his letter – identified fisheries, global sourcing and market access as the key contentious points in EPA talks.

“Pacific Ministers note with disquiet that the EPA negotiations have been going on for nearly 10 years which has stretched PACP human and financial resources.

“This long delay also means that preferences are also being eroded and thereby reducing the potential benefits to the PACP private sector.

“PACPs believe that if crafted properly, a comprehensive EPA has the potential to create the right conditions for trade and development.

“The comprehensive EPA will, however, only deliver on the development dimension if PACPS are offered improved market access, including global sourcing, and adequate and timely Aid for Trade resources to assist PACPS to improve their trade-related infrastructure and build their productive capacity, as well as, the capacity to comply with EU export requirements on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and Illegal and Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing.

“We need to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible and focus on implementing the comprehensive EPA. As agreed to in the previous rounds of negotiations, outstanding issues such as services and temporary movement of natural persons and probably geographic indications will be included in a rendezvous clause.

“There is no need to introduce new issues at this late stage of the negotiations. PACPS have also agreed to consider including the EC’s revised chapter on sustainable development in the EPA to address some of the EU’s concerns on sustainable development. PACPS believe that the revised chapter on sustainable development and the high- level principles on conservation and management of fisheries resources in the fisheries chapter are sufficient to address the EU’s concerns on sustainable development.”

Writing on behalf of all trade ministers of the Pacific ACP, Dr. Viliame told the EU Trade Commissioner that the Pacific finds as disturbing Brussels visible attempts to turn the EPA talks from trade negotiations into a fish treaty.

“Ministers are disturbed by the EC’s demands to include specific commitments on access to PACP fisheries resources in a trade agreement. As you may be aware, specific commitments on access are included in bilateral Fisheries Partnership Agreements after lengthy negotiations.

“It is simply not possible nor realistic to include specific commitments on fisheries access in a trade agreement. Following the statement issued by Ambassador Jacobs, PACP stakeholders, including non-state actors, have expressed concern that the EC is trying to bypass fisheries officials by negotiating fisheries access in a trade agreement.”

According to Dr. Latu, if Europe continues its insistence on access to fisheries in EPA negotiations, then such a demand could only be viewed as attempts to derail the process.

“PACPS have no problem with reaffirming their commitments to regional and international principles on sustainable management of fisheries resources. PACPS also have no problems with references to basic principles of transparency, best scientific evidence available and the need to combat IUU.

“However, the attempts by DG MARE to turn the EPA into a fisheries Treaty by proposing wholesale changes to the sub-regional measures that are implemented by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) has the potential to derail the negotiations on the comprehensive EPA.”

On the controversial matter of the global sourcing offer by the EU to Pacific fish exports, Minister Latu wrote that Europe’s current offer is unacceptable to the Pacific. Furthermore, Pacific members of the ACP would not accept any other offer that deviates from the one already offered to Papua New Guinea in its interim EPA with Europe.

“Global sourcing is the main reason why all the PACPs eventually agreed to submit their draft conditional market access offers. PACPs are apprehensive that we have had three rounds of negotiations and the EC is yet to submit its revised proposal on global sourcing.

“The current proposal on global sourcing, which seeks to limit coverage of species tuna only is clearly unacceptable. Furthermore, PACPS will not accept the coverage of global sourcing that is different from the one that we negotiated in the interim EPA. Any attempts to offer favorable coverage on the scope of global sourcing to one PACP and restrict it to other PACPS is discriminatory and will send negative signals to investors and undermine the potential benefits of global sourcing.”

Going forward, Pacific ACP Trade Ministers want global sourcing and the fisheries chapter of the proposed comprehensive EPA to be considered “in parallel”.

PACPs will not accept any proposal on the fisheries chapter without seeing the EC’s proposal on global sourcing, warned the ministers.

Dr. Viliami Latu - Tongan Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Labor
“We have done everything possible, but there seems to be no end to the question and answer session” – Pacific spokesperson to EU Trade Commissioner.