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   Government of the Republic of Fiji

  Ministry of Foreign Affairs

    A Better Fiji through Excellence in Foreign Service

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Media Release

Senior Civil Servants Represent Fiji in Regional WTO Workshop

Fiji was represented by Senior Civil Servants in a Workshop for Members of Parliament on WTO, in Port Villa from 11 – 13 May 2011. Fiji High Commissioner to PNG and the MSG, H.E. Niumaia Tabunakawai, Deputy Secretary (Political & Treaties), Sila Balawa, Deputy Secretary (Economics & Trade), Shaheen Ali from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation, who are front line advisors on Trade and WTO issues, attended the Workshop on behalf of the Fiji Government. Participants at the workshop included Ministers and Parliamentarians from the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) that are WTO members or observers, namely, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu.

The workshop was organised by the WTO and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Currently four PICs, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga are members of the WTO. Two other PICs, Vanuatu and Samoa are in the process of acceding, with Vanuatu in the final stages of its accession. The objective of the workshop was to raise awareness of participants of the benefits of freer and open trade.  The workshop discussed the role and functions of the WTO and the multilateral trading system and why countries, particularly developing and least developing countries become members of the WTO. This question became more relevant in the wake of Vanuatu’s imminent accession to the WTO.

The discussions of the workshop graduated from asking ‘why WTO’ to ‘how’, specifically, how can the Pacific effectively participate and benefit from WTO? The parliamentarians and participants were given ‘reality check’ by the private sector represented at the workshop, which lead to the consensus that the Non State Actors should be intimately involved in a collaborative process by the Government to ensure their interest is protected and promoted within the multilateral trading system of the WTO.

The workshop made the following recommendations/conclusions:


• The Pacific needs to be part of the globalised world and the defacto ‘Global Economic Parliament and Court’ which is the WTO.
• If the Pacific wants its industries and economies to become internationally competitive then reforms leading to the modernisation and strengthening of its economies, legislations and regulations needs to take place irrespective of the WTO. The WTO ‘locks in’ and encourages and enables those reforms.
• In case where the WTO reforms are going ahead at a much faster pace than PICs’ own national reforms, which may require more transitional time or policy space, then this should be voiced or negotiated. This will only be possible if PICs effectively negotiate rules that allows for policy space and ‘special and differential treatment’ (SDT), in recognition of their smallness and vulnerability.
• In order for the PICs to effectively participate, negotiate and make its voice heard in the WTO, the PICs need to be physically present in Geneva. In the absence of a permanent representation or mission in Geneva, the Forum WTO Office could be of great service however the PICs need to have greater say in the functions of that Office, which should represent the PIC interest and mandate. The technical capacity of that regional Office needs to be strengthened and its operations refocused to advance the Pacific’s trade and economic interest in the WTO.
• Capacity is a perennial hurdle that the PICs will need to overcome in order to participate effectively in the WTO, which is where strategic alliances, with like-minded countries and groups can greatly assist the PICs in ensuring their interest is voiced. These groups include SVE, ACP, NFIC, etc.
• Initiatives and assistance that are available such as Aid for Trade (AfT), Enhanced Integrated Framework, Advisory Centre on WTO Law, could be effectively used to exploit the benefits created by WTO liberalisation and reforms.
• Within the WTO, the PICs need to protect and promote their main trading interest and resources such as Fish and other natural resources in order to ensure these industries generate maximum economic output on a sustainable basis. At the same time, the PICs need to diversify their economies niche markets and through upstream/downstream processing which will ensure value addition to their natural resources.
• The ‘multilateral’ system of the WTO can be complimented by ‘regionalism’ and in particular, by the Regional Trade Agreements such as PICTA and MSG Trade Agreement. The PICs should adhere to the ‘stepping stone’ approach envisaged by their Leaders, which entails strengthening and implementing their own intra-Pacific trade agreement first (i.e. PICTA) and then moving on to other plurilateral trade agreements such as PACER Plus and EPA.

The workshop agreed that trade and WTO issues were cross-cutting and affected everyone, therefore, members should engage in broad-based and inclusive consultations nationally. The overall objective of the governments is to make a positive impact through their involvement in the WTO on the livelihoods of the people on the ground. Given that the people and citizens are the constituents and represented by Members of the Parliament, the MPs should be an integral stakeholder on WTO issues and consulted regularly. 

 

In this respect, the Fiji Delegation thanked the Government of Vanuatu for hosting, and the WTO and the PIFS for organising and convening this workshop. The Fiji Delegation indicated that upon their return, they will seek to explore options of establishing a permanent mission/embassy in Geneva, in the same vein as Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and would appreciate the assistance of the WTO and the PIFS in this regard.