Pacific-EU Trade Agreements May Be Dead In The Water

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Samoan ambassador: delegation may walk away from talks

By Sophie Budvietas

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Oct. 20, 2013) – The possibility of wrapping up the drawn out trade negotiations between the Pacific and the European Union is fading.

As a matter of fact, according to Samoa’s Ambassador to the European Union, Fatumanava III Dr. Paolelei Luteru a plan B is already being discussed.

"I think that Plan-B has now kicked in which means we walk away from the negotiation," he tells the Sunday Samoan.

"Because no progress has been made so I am sure that is where we are.

We have now said ‘let’s take a break’, there is no time frame in terms of another meeting.

"I will need to confirm that because that was the agreement that we reached when we discussed it with the High Officials."

The officials he speaks of are the EU Commission’s (EUC) Chief Operating Officer of External Action – or foreign affairs, the Director General of Fisheries Miss Lowri Evans and the Director of Trade.

"So these are very high officials and I am sure that what we have discussed and agreed will now be implemented," he said. "So I’ll have to wait and see when I return what is the situation."

Fatumanava was speaking to the Sunday Samoan yesterday at the end of the first consultation meeting of the Eminent Persons Group of member states of the ACP Group at Aggie Grey’s Resort.

The Ambassador is the Chair of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors.

Presently a Pacific Trade delegation is in Brussels to again discuss the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

However, talks were dealt yet another blow, with reports of a meeting between a Pacific Trade delegation and the EU Commissioner not going ahead as scheduled.

The various EPAs are a key element of the overarching Cotonou Agreement, the future of which was the focus of a high level meeting held here in Apia last week.

They are aimed at creating a free trade area between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

The EPAs were supposed to take effect as of 2008, however with discussions being drawn out, the trade negotiation’s lead spokesperson Tonga’s Dr Viliami Uasike Latu announced last June the Pacific would pull out of the negotiations if they were not concluded by the end of this year.

This ultimatum on the longest running trade talks in the Pacific was conveyed to the European Union Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, in a letter dated June 4, 2013.

The Pacific countries claim that Europe has failed to respond to their requests and the challenge issued by Dr. Latu on behalf of the PICs has thrown a decade worth of discussions into jeopardy.

Fatumanava III remarks echo those of the Solomon Islands National Trade Negotiations Envoy Robert Sisilo, who earlier this month said after almost 10 years of negotiations, the prospect of concluding a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the Pacific Island Countries (PIC) and the EU remains as elusive as ever.

Mr. Sisilo said Pacific Island Countries were at a critical stage of their negotiations and fish is the only issue standing in the way of progressing and concluding their EPA with the EU.

Mr. Sisilo said the big challenge now is how to treat fish and fish-related issues such as conservation and management measures in the EPA.

Fatumanava III reiterated that the EPA is an important part of our current relationship with the EU.

"Obviously they (the meeting’s participants) were concerned about it because of the current impasse in Brussels," he said. "I think we are all very concerned and disappointed about the lack of progress."

He said he had convened a meeting with the senior officials of the Commission in External Action Services - fisheries, trade and development cooperation.

He too raised the sensitive issue of fish.

"We were able to agree on a number of key principles in terms of the sensitive issues," he said.

"But unfortunately I think you know those that negotiated did not reach agreement.

"I think one of the difficulties lies in the fact that the sensitive issue at the moment is fisheries and when we negotiate EPA it is the trade officials that negotiate it.

"But when it comes to the issue of fisheries it is the fisheries officials that negotiate.

"There is also a bit of a gap in that relationship in terms of our region but I think we need really to look at how we are negotiating and see if it is the most effective way of negotiating."

He said one of the other issues that needed to be taken into account was the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), of which Samoa is not a member.

The PNA brings together eight Pacific Island countries to sustainably manage tuna.

PNA members are Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

These countries own waters which supply 25 percent of the world’s tuna, an estimated $2 billion worth of fish every year.

"We have PNA members – six of our Pacific ACP countries are not members," he said.

"There is also a need to look not only the members of PNA in terms of their own needs but also the others that are not there because they are basically holding up negotiations."

Fatumanava III said when he met with the high level officials from the EU Commission the issue of what he called a Plan B was discussed in the event EPA negotiations fell through.

"I think that Plan B has now kicked in which means we walk away from the negotiation," he said.

"Because no progress has been made so I am sure that is where we are.

"We have now said lets take a break there is no time frame in terms of another meeting.

"I will need to confirm that because that was the agreement that we reached when we discussed it with the High Officials."

The officials he speaks of are the EUC’s Chief Operating Officer of External Action – or foreign affairs, the Director General of Fisheries Miss Lowri Evans and the Director of Trade.

"So these are very high officials and I am sure that what we have discussed and agreed will now be implemented," he said.

"So I’ll have to wait and see when I return what is the situation."

In regards to the ultimatum that was issued to the EU earlier this year he said it was important that our region understands the Commission’s position on the talks.

"I think you know taking a stand in terms of what is important to us I can understand that," he said.

"But I think also we need to try and understand the other side as well.

"When you have a partnership you have got to accept the fact that there has to be give and take.

"You can’t always go into a negotiation thinking you are going to get everything that is not realistic.

"And on some of the sensitive issues for example global sourcing, the issue of conservation and the management of resources.

"It was clear to me at least if we understand where the EU are coming from then in my view we would be better prepared to make counter arguments."

He said some of the issues raised by the Commission’s officials were that of global sourcing, conservation and effective management of resources.

Global sourcing is the practice of sourcing from the global market for goods and services across geopolitical boundaries.

"For example on the issue of global sourcing," he said.

"The situation on their side their perception is that we’re basically giving them a black box and they say they will not accept that because they don’t know what is inside the box.

"So what we are asking them is to accept in good faith or blind faith the fact that the fish are all from the region.

"So they want at least some guarantee and I don’t think that that is an unreasonable position."

He said on the issue of conservation and effective management of resources and stock the EU would apply the same expectations they place on their member states to negotiation with external partners.

"We can understand that if they are saying to the member states, you can’t do this you have to do this, this and that then it is obvious that they want to be consistent," he said.

"And I think what we need to do is to look very closely at whether there are gaps in that arguments and then come out with a counter argument to ensure that our position holds its position."

Fatumanava III said it was clear to him that all parties needed to step back from the negotiations’ table.

"Because sometimes you get too involved and you don’t see the bigger picture," he said.

"So that is where we are and I really don’t know what will happen."

When asked if negotiations between the two parties were in an indefinite holding pattern at present, he said: "That is right.

"We will see whether there will be change at the political level which would entail a more favourable response on both sides.

"At the moment that is where we are at."

With the ambiguity surrounding the talks Fiji has come out denying any suspension of negotiations.

Speaking to the Fiji Broadcasting Cooperation yesterday, the nation’s Trade Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum denied reports that the European Union has suspended negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement in Brussels.

Sayed-Khaiyum clarified the meeting between the Pacific Trade delegation in Brussels and the European Union Commissioner Karel de Gucht did not go ahead as scheduled.

The meeting was to discuss the EPA with the Pacific.

"Actually they have not been suspended," he said.

"There was a series of meetings held between the trade officials of the Pacific and the trade officials of the EU and there was going to be a subsequent meeting between EU Commissioner and the Ministers who are in Brussels.

"But because of the issues that were identified in the trade officials meeting, and the fact that we need to regroup as a region, the meeting with the European Trade Commissioner did not go ahead."

Sayed-Khaiyum says the Pacific bloc has been given time to solve pending issues before they can continue negotiations.

"But the Pacific has written a letter [to the] EU Commissioner to say, given that some of the developments that has taken place, both parties need to regroup respectively and hopefully have a meeting very soon," he said.

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