Posts tagged EPA

Attorney-General Pushes Forward Pacific Trade Agenda

The Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and Trade, Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, today underscored the concerns of the Pacific ACP countries with regards to Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (C-EPA) negotiations, to the European Commission’s, Trade Commissioner, Mr. Karel de Gutch.

Minister Sayed-Khaiyum and Commissioner de Gutch met in the margins of Joint Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC), held on Friday, 26 October 2012, in Brussels, which they co-chaired, on behalf of the ACP Group and the European Union, respectively.

“The Pacific ACP (PACP) region has been negotiating the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Commission (EC) for the past 9 years and a number of contentious issues are yet to be resolved” said the Minister.

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Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and trade Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and European Commission’s Trade Commissioner Mr. Karel de Gutch in Brussels, Belgium

The Minister discussed with the Trade Commissioner the need for continuous and meaningful engagement by the EC with the Pacific ACP countries at technical and political levels, in order to finalise the negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

“As of now, all the 14 Pacific ACP countries have submitted Market Access Offers to the Commission in accordance with EU benchmarks, which is an indication of the commitment from the Pacific countries to conclude the Comprehensive EPA with the EU”, said Minister Sayed-Khaiyum.

“The Pacific is requesting for reciprocal commitment from the EC, not only at technical level but also with a demonstration political will to bring negotiations with the Pacific to conclusion for the mutual benefit of both parties”, said the Minister.

“The Pacific ACP region is the smallest configuration of the ACP Group, however, as a group it has many similarities and commonalities such as similar comparative advantages, market requirements and consumer demands, as well as, vulnerable economies and fragile ecosystems. Therefore, a successfully negotiated EPA with the Pacific is highly achievable and will demonstrate EU’s repeatedly stated commitment that EPAs are development focused”, stated the Minister.

The Minister pointed out to the Trade Commissioner that the Pacific ACP region is awaiting response from the Economic Union on the Market Access Offers and textual proposals submitted on the draft Economic Partnership Agreement.  Therefore, political intervention and further technical discussions at this point is crucial to get an amicable conclusion to the EPA.

Both Commissioner de Gutch and Minister Sayed-Khaiyum agreed that efforts need to be stepped by both sides to achieve a development focused and mutually beneficial Comprehensive EPA between the Pacific ACP and the EU.

Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum – Opening Address at Pacific ACP Trade Officials’ Meeting

BulaVinaka and very good morning and warm welcome.

Over the next three days you willdiscuss issues,which relate to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) the Pacific ACP states are negotiating with the European Union (EU).

I am sure that none of us need to be reminded that we have been negotiating the EPA for nine long years.

Every now and then, we need to stop and ask ourselves, what do we expect to achieve in this process?

what have we achieved thus far?

We need to ask ourselves are we at the risk of losing sight of our objectives in these meetings that we attend?

Are we still committed to concluding a beneficial EPA?

And have we been doing enough to bring these negotiations to a conclusion or are we just going through the motions and being led by other parties?

These questions are important if we are to justify to our stakeholders the time and resources spent in these negotiations.

The EU is one of the largest markets in the world, with over 500 million consumers, and has the potential to be a significant export market for the Pacific. The EPA provides us with an opportunity to have access into the European market –duty free and quota free.

The Pacific is constrained by narrow production base and remoteness from major trading partners, making us an unattractive proposition for FTAs.Thusthe ‘preferentialaccess’ offered by the EPA becomes essential to off-set some of the inherent disadvantages faced by the Region.

It should be noted that the European exporters will also through the EPA get duty free quota free access into our market. I am sure you are also aware that other countries outside the region that maybe our competitorshave also forged favourable market access agreements (or are in the process of doing so) with the EU.

What are our alternatives or fallbacks to the EPA?

We all know that LDCs can resort to the ‘Everything But Arms Agreement (EBA)’. The non-LDCs would be pushed to the GSP scheme (or without any arrangement at all if they are classed as Middle Income Countries (MIC)). Our Region has a disparate mix of Developing Countries, LDCs and LIMCs.

We should also note that schemes such as the GSP and EBA are unilateral and may not continue indefinitely. As was seen with the GSP recently, they can be changed at any time. With the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020, we should question whether these arrangements would be adequate to underpin our trade relations with an important partner like the EU.

The last thing we want is to be forced into an arrangement that is against our national interest. At the end of this process our ultimate objective should be to have access to a range of options which includes the best possible Agreement we can have with the EU.In this endeavour, we have resolved to negotiate the Comprehensive EPA, in solidarity as a single and united Region. It is, therefore, our responsibility to ensure, having invested many years and millions of Euros in these negotiations, that we craft an agreement that benefits our Region.

We should also be mindful of how we negotiate EPA as it will have a major bearing on the Region’s other proposed agreements like the PACER Plus negotiations. We may have to give the very same concessions we give to the EU and perhaps more.

If we look at Fiji’s experience, weinitialled the Interim EPA in 2007 and signed it in 2009, principally, to ensure our sugar exports to Europe were not disrupted. However, we are yet to ratify the EPA. This is because we believe that we need to take a strategic approach. We need totake into consideration the long term impact of such an agreement. We need to ensure that our country’s economic and development aspirations are fully addressed. The I-EPA, as it currently stands,fails in this regard.

Furthermore, the I-EPA contains several contentious issues that challenges our national sovereignty, constrains our policy space and has the potential to retard our development. It also contains issues unrelated to trade thatshould be appropriately addressed in other foras. These issues have to be removed or resolved before we can commit to the final Agreement.You as trade officials have the important task to address these issues in theComprehensive EPA negotiations.

It is worth noting that the recent policy changes by the European Commission to withdraw market access regulations in 2014, places further pressure on the Pacific to conclude the current negotiations and have in place a Comprehensive EPA with the EU. The EC needs to understand that the current level of engagement is unacceptable. Furthermore, a strong message needs to be sent to the EC making it clear thatthe Pacific ACP side will not settle for any interim or temporary solutions. Rather, as was our initial vision, we are committed to concluding negotiations on a full and Comprehensive EPA.

It is also of concern that we have met the European Commission only once in almost 3 years and even that meeting has been at an informal level. On the other hand, the EC has been regularly meeting the other ACP sub-regions, at all levels including at Summit/HoG level. If the PACP and EC are not able to sit across the table and have serious negotiations how will the outstanding and contentious issues be resolved?

Whilst the EC has to shoulder the responsibilities of the lethargy in these negotiations we have to question whether we have also played our part. In relation to this it is imperative that our country representatives whether Ambassadors of the individual countries or regional representatives represent our best interest with vigor – not the interests of the EU. Their role is to protect our interests not succumb to the diplomatic machination of the EU nor to the salubrious environment of Brussels or London.

You, our Regions’ Trade officials, will discussan array of critical issues on the EPA over the three days that includes our fisheries access, legal options on contentious issues and customs issues to name a few.I have been informed that apart from Fiji and PNG, the rest of the PACPs are close to finalising their market access offers, in line with EU benchmarks that were demanded from us. Careful thought is now neededon how the Region will leverage these offers to get commensurate concessions from the EU.

In light of the Regional mandate to conclude the negotiations by 2012, this meeting would be one of the last opportunities you have to firm up our positions and strategies (which isto be endorsed by the Trade Ministers) before we meet the EU later in the year, for the final round of negotiations to conclude the Comprehensive EPA.

Iwish you well in your deliberations.To those visiting our shores I wish you a pleasant stay and invited you to take advantage of the Fijian hospitality.

VinakaVakaLevu and Thank you