News Release

Oxfam New Zealand Wellington, New Zealand March 1, 2007

As trade talks with the European Union enter a crucial phase, a broad group of non-state representatives from across the Pacific has demanded that trade negotiators achieve a fair agreement that benefits all Pacific people.

The European Union is insisting that the Pacific conclude an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by the end of 2007, but both sides are far apart. A delegation of Pacific trade minsters led by Samoan Minister of Trade, the Hon. Hans Joachim Keil, embarked this week on a tour of European capitals to lobby Europe’s political leaders for a development-friendly trade agreement. On 1 March, the Ministerial delegation is scheduled to hold talks with the European Commission (EC) in Brussels.

On 27 February, more than 60 Pacific representatives from parliaments, civil society, and the private sector issued a joint statement that called on the EU to respond constructively to the Pacific trade negotiators’ proposals. The statement came at the conclusion of a two-day workshop convened by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Nadi.

"The EU has been slow to respond to the Pacific’s proposals, while at the same time refusing to extend the deadline beyond 31 December 2007," said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, who attended the meeting.

A senior EC trade official participating in the workshop, Martin Dihm, faced tough questioning over the EC’s rejection of the Pacific’s call for flexibility in the negotiations.

The workshop considered a draft review of the Pacific’s negotiations which concludes that the delay in the EPA work programme and lack of agreement with the EU on key issues make it unlikely that a satisfactory agreement can be concluded by the end of 2007. The statement issued by the workshop calls on the EU to continue current arrangements until the negotiations are concluded, thereby enabling the continuation of Pacific exports to the EU. The workshop statement also calls on Pacific negotiators to officially request that the EU specify alternative arrangements to the EPA.

"The EU has been telling the Pacific that the only alternative to the EPA is a far worse deal," Barry Coates added. "But the EU has already made a legal commitment under the Cotonou agreement. They must offer an alternative at least as good as the current arrangements if the Pacific countries do not consider that the EU’s offer of an EPA is in their interests. The EU must spell out what the alternative is and not play negotiating games with the livelihoods of Pacific people who depend on trade with them."

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