Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s Remarks at the Special Pacific ACP (PACP) Ministerial Meeting in Solomon Islands

Bula Vinaka and very good morning

Good to see some of you again, here this morning. It is far cry from the freezing temperatures of Brussels.

We have been called here, firstly, to meet amongst ourselves with the view to meet the European Trade Commissioner later in the week.

I am deeply concerned in the manner in which the meeting this morning and the subsequent planned meeting with the trade commissioner has been organised.

The Pacific Trade Ministers who were present in Brussels had decided and agreed to meet separately in Fiji, not just for one day but for the necessary period required to resolve and strategise on the issues pertaining to the comprehensive EPA, vis-à-vis the outstanding and contentious issues.

This agreed meeting, proposed to be held in Fiji, was also important for us to address the withdrawal of PNG from the negotiations in Brussels.

The PACP Ministers agreed to the meeting in Fiji, to re-group and re-strategise and form a united approach to take us forward in the EPA negotiations.

The reality is that the Comprehensive EPA in its current form (to state the obvious) has enormous ramification on our policy space, sovereignty and development.

It also constraints our ability to deliver basic socio-economic rights to our citizens.  The Fijian Constitution, assented to by the President on 6 September 2013, provides for unprecedented socio-economic rights, including the right to housing, education, health, food and the right to economic participation. We cannot let any trade agreement prevent Fiji from providing these basic necessities to our citizens.

I would at this juncture, like to state that the Forum Secretariat is not here to act on behalf of the EU and they should not dictate directions to the members but to provide technical advice and further our position.

And I would like to state that from my observations from Brussels, the Forum has been non-transparent and has not played the role of the Secretariat or carried out in honesty and sincerity the decisions of the Ministers and the wishes of the member states.

Chairman, Fellow Ministers, I have come here with a message that the EPA is not something to play with or to decide on the trot.

I do not need to remind you that we do not have technical capacity that the African and Caribbean states have in undertaking negotiations – therefore, our strength is in numbers and our unity.

Whilst countries such as Fiji and PNG have many resources to take advantage of, not all PACP States have the same luxury, as their sole resource is fisheries.

Fiji itself is facing a precarious situation with all our sugar stocks being sold to the EU, however, we will not agree to an Agreement that will provide short term market access but have long term impact on our development aspirations.

Fellow Ministers, the EPA negotiations are at a crucial stage, where we as Ministers need to guide and provide political direction to our officials and the Forum Secretariat.

Our objective is to negotiate an EPA that is development friendly and beneficial to all parties, especially our Small Islands Developing States.

Fellow Ministers, while some say we have spent 10 long years negotiating the Comprehensive EPA – that is not exactly true since there was lull from the EU side for a good number of years.

We have now reached a point where the finalisation of the negotiations is very important for some PACP States.  Some countries are being pressured into finalising a deal at any cost or moving to an agreement that is less than favourable and could have detrimental long term impact on our countries.

In this regard, we understand the urgency of Solomon Islands, who are perhaps being pushed into acceding to the Interim EPA to secure market access of their precious fisheries resources.

We believe that as a united region we can achieve a better Agreement, on our terms, that provides markets and at the same time, ensures the sustainability of our vital resources for the betterment of our people.

I have just come from a Regional Conservation Forum, which was held in Fiji and attended by over 800 delegates from the region and beyond. Present at this Conference was the Cook Islands Prime Minister and Ministers from Palau and Marshall Islands.

The Conference discussed conservation and management of our fragile environment. It is becoming increasingly apparent that our ability to maintain food security, among other things, will be impacted upon by the trade agreements we enter into.

Therefore, we need think and plan for the long term, not just for our children but for the generations to come.  We should not conclude an EPA, at the expense of our countries and our region’s future.

We need to put aside personal differences and egos and come together and think of our future and the future of the region and ask pertinent questions.

Are we getting the best deal – is the current EPA a development oriented agreement?

This brings me back to the decision made by the core group of Ministers in Brussels, that is, the decision to re-group and re-strategy and re-engage with the EU as a single, unified bloc, but not simply make decisions driven by technocrats and officials and in one day.

We are a stage in the negotiation where we need political will and decision made at the highest level.

The Ministers need to take responsibility for the EPA and the roadmap for successful conclusion of the EPA negotiations. I note that since November 2012, there has not been any PACP Leaders meeting.

The region’s Leaders have been left out of the major developments in the PACP region and the EPA negotiations.  The PACP Leaders need to meet and provide the mandate to us Ministers and Officials on the way in which the EPA needs to be progressed.

Fellow Ministers, I urge you to look at the bigger picture – what is the relevance of this meeting and the meeting with EC Trade Commissioner, are we going to achieve the best results for our region?

Mr. Chairman, we still believe that as PACP States we need to meet and closely consider our strategy.

We also believe that the Leaders need to meet to consider some of the fundamental issues, as to how we can take ownership of the EPA negotiations and its implementation after conclusion of negotiations.

As we are aware, the Leaders have agreed to form a separate Secretariat for the PACP.  We as a region need to further discuss the decision of the Leaders and ensure that we fulfil their mandate.

Given what I have just stated, Fellow Ministers, as a matter of principle Fiji cannot participate any further in this meeting.

We are here to reiterate our message that the PACPS need to meet, without EU’s presence or pressure from the Forum Secretariat.  We all need to meet with PNG in regional setting as well, to understand the situation.

Our offer to meet in Fiji is still open.  We of course do not have to meet in Fiji but we do need to meet as a region and as was agreed in Brussels.

Our position does not mean that we are abandoning our regional neighbours. We are and have been from the start, a strong advocate of regional solidarity, which, perhaps has been to the chagrin of the Forum Secretariat and our detractors.

We are committed to negotiating a Comprehensive EPA, but one that is favourable to all parties, has development at its core and which is for the benefit for all our citizens.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the opportunity to speak and I thank the good Ministers for their time.

Vinaka Vakalevu.

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