SOUTH PACIFIC FORUM TO CONSIDER FREE TRADE BLOC PROPOSAL IN JUNE

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 19, 1999 - Radio Australia)---A proposal for a free trade bloc covering all the island nation members of the South Pacific Forum will be considered by the Forum Trade Ministers when they meet in June.

Radio Australia correspondent Sean Dorney reports that the Forum's secretariat, which is based in Suva, has been working on the proposal in anticipation of the winding-up next February of the Lomé Four Convention. Some of the island countries have enjoyed free trade access to Europe under the Convention. Dorney says:

"For the past 20 years, eight Pacific island nations have benefited from special aid and trade concessions provided by the European Union (EU) under successive Lomé Conventions. But the latest World Trade Organization rules won't allow that to continue.

"The Secretary General of the South Pacific Forum's Secretariat, Noel Levi, says the EU has stated that it will want to negotiate reciprocal free trade access from when the fourth Lomé Convention expires next February. 'We are hoping that the Pacific will by then have a framework for a free trade area which will make it much easier to deal with the European Union,' he said.

"The issue has major implications for the island countries, most of which depend enormously on custom duties and tariffs for their internal revenue.

"Sean Dorney, Radio Australia."

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