FIJI SAYS INCLUSION IN REGIONAL TRADE TALKS CRITICAL

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Exclusion threatens to ‘permanently fragment’ Pacific

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, July 9, 2009) – Fiji has expressed concern that it’s continued exclusion from regional trade meetings will "permanently fragment" the Pacific Island countries.

The Fiji Government said in a statement that it is imperative that it be involved in further talks on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER), and the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA).

Fiji has been excluded from meetings and discussions sanctioned by the Pacific Islands Forum following its suspension on May 1 this year.

Leaders of the remaining 15 PIF member countries will meet in Cairns, Australia next month, and it is likely that the proposed Pacific free trade agreements will again surface.

However, Fiji has warned that to do so would be "unlawful".

"Any discussions or decisions from which Fiji is or has been excluded, including any that may be undertaken during or alongside the Forum Leader’s Meeting in August 2009, would consequently not be binding on Fiji and would be invalid under the Agreements itself," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum told FijiLive that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working on securing Fiji’s "adequate representation at the PACER negotiations".

"For a regional trade agreement to be successful you need one of the largest economies in the South Pacific to be a participant in the PACER- Plus negotiations," he said.

It seems at this stage there is yet to be a positive response from the Pacific Islands Forum on the matter.

This has prompted Fiji to caution that its exclusion "will cause irreparable damage to the Pacific region’s economic integration and trade development objectives, and would permanently fragment the region".

It is highly likely that Fiji will fully withdraw from the PACER and the PICTA if the Forum persists with its exclusion.

Fiji Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama will seek support of the Melanesian Spearhead Group Leaders at their special meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu this week.

Fijilive: http://www.fijilive.com

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