Government of the Republic of Fiji
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
A Better Fiji through Excellence in Foreign Service
Senior Government officials
Experts from Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Members of the Private Sector
On behalf of the Minister and Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, I welcome you all to the Extended TDC Meeting on National Consultations on Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. This meeting is the culmination of the consultations the Ministry has been undertaking with you, in partnership with Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
From 17-18 May, the Ministry conducted one to one consultations with all key line Agencies on the Legal Text of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (C-EPA) that Fiji and the Pacific is negotiating with the European Union. The consultations were focused on national positions on the outstanding and contentious issues of the Comprehensive EPA, in line with the mandate given by PACP Trade Ministers in March 2011 to wrap up the negotiations by the end of this year.
During the 1-to-1 sessions, we had focused meeting with your agencies on the textual provisions of the EPA that is most relevant to your area of competence. The Ministry has compiled the inputs from these consultations in a Matrix that has been circulated to all of you. These results will be presented today where members will have another opportunity to factor in any further views. After this meeting, the national position will be finalised and taken to the Regional PACP Legal Working Group Meeting from 30 June - 2nd July 2011. Subsequently, the Pacific will take their collective position to European Commission, sometime this year.
Members, the importance of this Extended TDC meeting and the national consultation process cannot be understated. This maybe the last opportunity to consult before the final leg of the negotiations are undertaken. It was back in 2000 when the WTO gave an 8 year wavier for the non-reciprocal ACP trade preferences (under the Lomé/Cotonou agreement) into the European Union market. This arrangement had to come to an end because it violated the Non Discrimination principle of the WTO. Negotiations on a WTO compatible arrangement (termed the EPA) between the ACP and the European Union commenced in 2002 at ACP wide level and in the Region in 2004. As of now, after 8 years of negotiations, there is still substantial divergence between the European Commission and the Pacific on key issues. As per the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers instructions, the Pacific negotiators now need to be armed with their proposal and solutions on these outstanding issues, including fallback positions to progress these on-going negotiations to a conclusion. They need to make key decisions in the upcoming meetings, within the Region, and with the EC; lack of national consultations will no longer suffice as a reason to defer or delay these talks.
The WTO wavier on Cotonou preference expired in 2007, as was envisaged; however, there was no agreed EPA, which could take over. In the region, Fiji and PNG initialed and subsequently signed an Interim EPA, (which was an interim measure) to ensure there were no market disruptions for Fiji's sugar and PNG's canned tuna, while negotiations continued on the Comprehensive EPA. However, these negotiations, which are being funded by Europe, cannot go on endlessly, they need finality or there is the danger that the Pacific will be left with the Interim EPA that is limited in scope and has contains contentious issues.
What stands in the way of a finalized Comprehensive EPA from Fiji's point of view, as you all may be aware by now, is the outstanding and contentious issues; thus their importance not just for policy makers but for the private sector because these issues have a direct bearing on market access and trade.
Our deliberations will hopefully consolidate our position and firm our strategy on how negotiations on the contentious issues can be pursued, keeping Fiji's interest at the forefront. [I may add here that Fiji on its own can only do so much, other Pacific ACP countries will also have to play their part especially those that have not made any tariff commitments (market access offers).]
I would like to end my remarks by touching on the broader aspect of trade. The WTO credits international trade as contributing significantly to the emergence of the global economy from the recent crisis, with 19% growth in global trade in 2010. Whilst countries have generally looked inwards during the crisis, the dynamic economies, mainly the emerging economies, have continued to capitalize on trade opportunities. Historically, between 1951 and 2010, the world GDP increased about 9 times whilst the volume of merchandise trade has increased 33 times. This evolution indicates the relative greater dynamism of international trade and its increasing contribution to growth. The Deputy Director of the WTO attributes this, to the greater significance of supply chains, and the emergence of new and additional growth poles. Supply chains involve multiple countries, in the production of any one tradable product.
In the Pacific, it is very conceivable a Chinese boat, with Kiribati workers, catches fish in Vanuatu waters, lands it in Fiji, where it is processed into cooked loins and is finally shipped to PNG from where it is caned and exported to Europe. In this case, a trade restriction on fish by Europe will possibly affect 5 countries and possibly 4 industries (fishing, loining, canning and licensing).
We need to keep the dynamic nature of trade and its potential multi-faceted impact at the forefront when deciding on our national negotiating positions on EPA with the European Union.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs P. O. Box 2220 Government Buildings Suva, Fiji