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EPA negotiations can move if EC ‘meets us half way’

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Dec. 14, 2011) –Solomon Islands Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Robert Sisilo, told Trade Ministers from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States meeting in Brussels last week that the Pacific is able, willing and ready for a formal negotiating session with the European Commission (EC) on the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

And that this will pave the way for the almost 9-year long EPA negotiations to conclude by the end of next year, at the latest.

It could be earlier if the EC, like the Pacific, also demonstrates some flexibility, on the remaining contentious issues.

"The Pacific ACP States have demonstrated flexibility on their market access offers and on the remaining contentious issues and we expect the EC to also show some flexibility and meet us half way on export taxes, global sourcing for fresh and frozen fish, development cooperation and other unresolved issues." Mr. Sisilo told the Trade Ministers from the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions.

[PIR editor’s note: Both Papua New Guinea and Fiji signed economic partnership agreements with the European Commission in 2009, which include duty- and quota-free exports to the former Commonwealth countries, markets opened to EU goods, and provisions to address technical trade barriers, among other factors.]

Besides submitting their revised market access offers, which basically are plans on how they will reduce their duties on goods imported from the EU over a given period, the Pacific ACP States have also submitted their revised EPA legal text to the EC for their consideration in mid-July.

The text was revised following an intensive process of national consultations in all Pacific ACP States.

"The submission of these revised draft market access offers and the revised draft legal text are in no way a small undertaking and is a clear demonstration of the region’s strong commitment to concluding the EPA negotiations in 2012," Mr. Sisilo stressed.

Despite his disappointment on the lack of a formal negotiating session with the EC during the course of this year, Mr. Sisilo was happy to note that his region did have informal discussions with the EC in late November.

And it is very likely that the next formal negotiating session will take place during the first quarter of next year.

"We really look forward to successfully conclude our EPA negotiations with the EC next year and to building a strong and long-lasting partnership with the EU well beyond the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that will lapse in 2020," Mr. Sisilo said.

ACP Trade Ministers were meeting in Brussels last week to see how best they can all move forward in their EPA negotiations with the EC before they meet their EU counterparts on Monday this week before heading to Geneva for the 8th WTO Ministerial Conference.

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