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Pacific Nations Left Uneasy After PNG EPA Drop-Out

Pacific nations are feeling uneasy after Papua New Guinea (PNG) chose to drop out of the joint negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union on tuna exports to its region, which could see tariffs of several other nations  reduced to zero percent. The European Commission recently had told Pacific government officials that the EPA negotiations had been suspended without assigning a day for further hearing. Several Pacific countries felt led down by PNG’s taking this position. 

The decision to opt out by PNG was given by the European Commission as the reason for the suspension. As a result, negotiations for a free trade agreement between the Pacific members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (PACP) states and the EU last month in Brussels resulted in no deal being made. Discussions over the agreement have been taking place for over a decade.

Signing of an EPA would mean Pacific nations having to agree that the EU tuna fleet would have access to their fishing waters in return for a free trade agreement on their tuna exports to Europe. The EU position insisted that this could be negotiated regionally. The EU Parliament rejected insistence from Pacific island states that the proposed EPA was about trade and development, and not a fishery treaty issue.
PNG defended  its decision on the matter by asserting that it had to stick with the interim EPA (IEPA) it had already signed with the EU in 2009 in order to protect its multi-million dollar tuna exports to Europe. This former deal that remains in place between the two parties gives PNG the trade benefit of zero percent export duty on tuna to the EU, with no obligation in return to give access to the European purse seiner and longliners fleet to its waters. Without accepting the IEPA deal and if no joint EPA would have been established, PNG would have risked its tuna canning industry being subjected to a 24 percent tariff on tuna.
Officials from PNG also emphasized that the decision had to be made in order for the country to secure its much sought after global sourcing provisions that are part of the interim agreement. This clause allows PNG to produce tuna and other fish from anywhere in the world and export the processed product to the EU under the free trade agreement. PNG is the only country in the world that has a global sourcing agreement with Europe on tuna exports.
Pacific government officials said the opt-out of the Pacific’s biggest member and strongest negotiator during discussions left several island officials red-faced. It was suggested at the meeting that, with the EPA talks suspended, Pacific officials should now direct more energy and focus on negotiations with Australia and New Zealand for a PACER plus trade agreement, and forget about getting an attractive deal with the EU without surrendering tuna fishing rights in return.