Fiji pushes for development oriented European Union deal

A crucial stage has been reached in the negotiations of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.

We have reached a point where finalising these negotiations is very important for some Pacific ACP (African Caribbean Pacific) States – Fiji being amongst them.

With the withdrawal of market access regulations 1528 on October 1, Fiji is faced with the stark reality of losing preferential market access or be subjected to a less-than-favourable trade agreement.

This would be if the Comprehensive EPA is not concluded by June.
The Fijian Government is, however, adamant, they want “one EPA for the region, the best EPA, an EPA that is development-oriented”.

This was stressed by the Permanent Secretary for Industry and Trade, Shaheen Ali, yesterday.
He made these comments during the opening of the three-day Pacific ACP Trade and Fisheries Officials meeting which got underway in Suva yesterday.

Mr Ali said since June last year, there have been significant developments in the negotiations, however, not all of them were helpful to achieving a successful outcome.

“Instead of addressing the existing contentious and unresolved issues, the European Union has made new demands, which threatens to dilute what was already agreed to in the Interim EPA,” he said.

“This has led to the non-participation of Papua New Guinea in the Comprehensive EPA negotiations and disunity in the group.
“In light of these developments, Fiji has clearly stated from the very beginning that we need to re-group and re-strategise as a region.

“This means getting Papua New Guinea to join us, to conclude one agreement that covers us all.

“We need to come together and develop relevant strategies to address Papua New Guinea’s concerns and also bring the EPA negotiations to a conclusion.”

Unfair approach

Mr Ali highlighted that the European Commission’s approach towards the Pacific in the EPA negotiations has been far from development-friendly.

“For almost three years, the European Commission was disengaged from EPA negotiations with the Pacific,” he said.

“When negotiation re-commenced in 2012, European Commission’s response was delayed and selective.
“The Pacific ACP region has been subjected to a broad-brush and generalised approach by the European Commission in our negotiations.

“There has been very little attempt on the part of European Commission to understand our uniqueness, our challenges, our smallness and our vulnerability.

“Instead Pacific ACP has been treated similar to any other ACP country or any other advanced negotiating partner of the European Commission.”

No hand outs

Mr Ali said they are not willing to be party to an Agreement that may provide short term market access, but have a long term negative impact on our development aspirations.

“Some countries are being pressured into finalising a deal at any cost or agreeing to an agreement that is less than favourable and could have detrimental long term consequences for our peoples,” he said.

“The Fijian Government will ensure its people, especially in the sugar industry continue to enhance their livelihoods and are not adversely impacted by our trading partners.”

Mr Ali highlighted that the European Commission’s approach towards the Pacific in the EPA negotiations has been far from development-friendly.

The PACP side is still awaiting a proposal on global sourcing for fresh, frozen chilled fish, whilst the Pacific side has provided unprecedented concessions on our sub-regional conservation and management measures.

(Source: Fiji Sun)