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By Patrick Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji Islands, (February 3, 2000 - OFO)---The Pacific Island state of Fiji will give its capital’s name to the agreement that is to succeed the Lomé Convention between the European Union and the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) countries, diplomatic sources confirmed here on Wednesday.

At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to finalize the venue of the signing, the two remaining bidders for the hosting of the signing ceremony were Togo (where Lomé is located) and Fiji.

But in a surprise move, Togo on Wednesday withdrew its bid, leaving Fiji the only host to the crucial ceremony to take place on May 31st, 2000.

Last December, during an earlier round of talks between EU and ACP countries, the African state of Benin withdrew its application to host the signing ceremony.

The event would be the biggest State gathering in Fiji’s history and would also mean that the Pacific Island state would give its name to the agreement.

The past four EU-ACP conventions were named after the Togo capital. The last agreement, Lomé IV, expires this coming February 28th. The Africans were lobbying for the venue to be Lomé again in order to retain the symbolic name within Africa.

Last month, Togo sent a high-level delegation to Fiji and made representations to the local authorities, asking them to withdraw Fiji’s bid. But Fiji maintained its stand.

Another factor was that EU cooperation with Togo was suspended in 1998 because of the non-respect by this country of democratic and human rights.

The meeting currently under way in Brussels, at EU’s headquarters, is to finalize the terms of the next five-year agreement, which will set a framework for cooperation and trade arrangements between the European Union and the 81 ACP countries.

"When (Fiji Foreign Affairs Minister) Tupeni Baba left Fiji last Sunday for Brussels, he indicated to me it was the Fiji government’s wish to host the convention, as a sign of respect for Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (Fiji’s current Head of State), who was one of the founding fathers of the Lomé convention," Suva-based David Macrae, head of the European Union delegation for the Pacific, told OFO.

"I think they were pretty determined and the Fijian Prime Minister is also very keen. That was the sentiment that was conveyed to me."

"Fiji feels hosting this signing ceremony is good for Fiji, for the whole Pacific and also for the ACP group."

Under the agreement, the EU buys about half of the yearly 400,000-ton sugar production from Fiji and allows it preferential entry at a stabilized price.

In December, the new protocol’s negotiators earmarked a total of 50.2 billion Euro (EUR), a slightly higher amount than the Lomé IV convention, EU sources said. But the final document remains to be ratified at a still-to-be-determined venue.

"So this is a very important convention," Macrae said.

"Apart from the location, the swing from a French-speaking country (Togo) to an English-speaking one (Fiji), was favored by some," Macrae said.

102 Countries’ Top Officials To Be Represented

The final convention and the signing of the new agreement will gather the 81 ACP member countries, the 15 members from the European Union and other countries, which received observer status during the ACP-EU negotiations.

"In the Pacific only, there are six countries, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Cook islands, Niue, which are members of the Forum, but don’t belong to the ACP group as yet. They have applied, have been granted observer status and have already indicated their interest to sign the convention."

"There are also 12 European countries interested in joining the EU, and who are being seriously considered for EU membership. It’s not inconceivable that one or two of those might wish to send representatives to an event of the importance of this one," Macrae predicted.

"So you’re looking at 81 ACP countries, 15 EU members. That makes 96 countries to start with, plus the 6 Pacific Island countries wanting to join ACP. So the ACP group could be increased from 81 to 87 members in the near future and the total number of countries represented could rise to 102 at least."

Initial logistic plans would favor the hosting of the top representatives in the west of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, presumably at the Denarau Resort, and a final trip to the capital Suva for the actual signing.

Audio - David Macrae, head of European Union delegation for the Pacific, explains the potential attendance for the planned signing ceremony of the Suva convention.


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