Unity in trade talks sought

The Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and Trade, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, will attend a meeting of regional trade ministers in Solomon Islands today to stress the importance of Pacific unity in trade discussions with the European Union (EU).

The Special PACP (Pacific  group of the African, Carribean and Pacific bloc or ACP) Ministerial Meeting will be attended by trade ministers and representatives from 14 PACP countries to prepare for their discussions with the EU’s Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, on December  12 in the Solomons capital of Honiara.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said that the need for PACP nations to stand together to negotiate a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU was stronger than ever.

In October  this year, the EU suspended EPA negotiations after Papua New Guinea (PNG) withdrew from the discussions.  PNG has already ratified the Interim EPA and has been able to utilise the agreement to create investment and growth in its canned fish sector.  It did not want these benefits to be reduced by the EU as a result of  EPA negotiations.

The rest of the PACP states are hoping to get the same benefits under the EPA for fresh and frozen fish, however, the EU is demanding a number of prohibitive conditions.

The EU said without PNG the EPA talks could not continue and that PACP countries would instead need to sign the Interim EPA, which was detrimental to their interests.

“The Pacific region must not allow this setback to drive a wedge between us,”  Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

“Approaching negotiations as a unified bloc is still the best option because it gives the region the maximum leverage to achieve the most favourable trade agreement.  Pacific unity is crucial for the conclusion of an EPA that meets the development aspirations of the region,” he continued,” he said.

He added  that although Fiji had the biggest stake in the EPA negotiations given the size of its trade links with the EU, it wanted to proceed with the rest of the region in order to find a solution that was in the best interests of all PACP states.

In preparation for the ministerial meeting, the PACP officials met yesterday to discuss technical issues for presentation to the the ministers.

The Fijian delegation to the officials meeting is led by the Permanent Secretary for Industry and Trade, Shaheen Ali.

(Source: Fiji Sun)