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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 8) – Pacific integration has been undermined by the trade agreements between the European Union, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, says Oxam New Zealand executive director Barry Coates.

Mr Coates criticised the EU for putting pressure on the two Pacific nations to sign an interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

"It makes a mockery of the EU's rhetoric about the EPA agreements supporting the processes of regional integration," he said.

The agreement was reached in Brussels last Thursday and was signed on Monday.

"The European negotiators put these countries in an extremely difficult position," said Mr Coates.

"They faced an immediate threat to thousands of workers' livelihoods from the apparently imminent tariff hike.

"This threat by the EU is directly contrary to its undertakings in the Cotonou Agreement that they would not disadvantage countries that did not choose to sign an EPA," he said.

"They have done the opposite and undermined the Pacific's own trade agreement and the integration aspirations of the Pacific Plan."

Similarly, Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) criticised the EU for putting grossly unfair pressure on Fiji and PNG.

PANG co-ordinator Roshni Sami said the final stages of negotiation for the agreement were completed in a mad rush, and there was no public scrutiny of the implications of signing this deal.

This comes as the European Commission in a statement yesterday said Fiji, PNG and EC initialled an interim partnership agreement which would serve the immediate market access interests of PNG and Fiji and later, of any other Pacific state which might wish to join. "Absolutely, it is quite clear that if Papua New Guinea did not sign, the EU would charge a 20 per cent duty on to exports to the EU," she said.

"This would put the PNG fishing industry and thousands of jobs at risk. Fiji faces a similar situation with sugar exports to the EU."

She warned Pacific governments that Australia and NZ could try to gain the same market access as granted the EU, which would have much bigger consequences in terms of increased competition, loss of government revenue, business closures and job losses.

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