The Pacific - African, Caribbean and Pacific (PACP) Trade Officials and Trade Ministers met in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, from 13-17 August, to discuss key issues, which included the Management of PACP Group, Fiji’s participation in the PACP and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the EU.
The Fijian delegation to the PACP Trade Official Meeting (13-15 August) was led by Fiji’s Ministry of Industry and Trade permanent secretary Mr Shaheen Ali, who also represented the Minister for Industry and Trade, at the PACP Trade Ministers’ Meeting (16-17 August).
“These meetings have been vital for the PACP states, given the urgent need to finalise the Comprehensive EPA negotiations in order to meet the 2012 deadline set by the PACP Trade Ministers. This will be last time the PACP states meet as a group before the early October face-to-face meetings with the EU”, Mr Ali said.
“A finalised and well negotiated Comprehensive EPA will provide the PACP states the opportunity to enter the EU market with compatible preferences, making the PACP products marketable and competitive”.
At this meeting there was an urgent need to address Fiji’s concerns by the PACP Trade Ministers, in order to focus the PACP region’s united and collective effort and attention on progressing trade initiatives and negotiations for the betterment of the region.
The Fijian head of delegation outlined to the PACP Trade Officials and Trade Ministers the negative impact and consequences of Fiji’s exclusion from the PACP forums, on regional trade and economic integration. Fiji’s issues and concerns were important to be resolved to allow the Region to move forward in unison on EPA negotiations and other key regional trade initiatives such as PICTA.
“Fiji expressed a collective concern, which was also shared other PACP states, that, if the present scenario is allowed to continue and Fiji remains outside the PACP Leaders meetings, the Region’s economic and trade integration suffers, perhaps irreversibly” said Mr Ali.
At the meeting, Mr Ali stated that “Intra-PACP trade has been mostly stagnant, barring trade among MSG countries which is growing. The MSG countries are creating and progressing people to people linkages and the flow of goods, services and capital. Whilst at the sub-regional level (MSG Countries) are moving towards single market, wider regional initiatives such as PICTA remain dormant”.
“The non-involvement of Fiji’s Head of Government in PACP would mean that Fiji will not be able to conclude the current Comprehensive EPA negotiations. This will not be beneficial for the region or regional integration and defeats the PACP’s mandate and objective of negotiating the Comprehensive EPA as a single region” stated Mr. Ali.
Mr Ali informed the Ministers, that irrespective of Fiji’s concerns regarding PACP, the Bainimarama Government is determined to “build a better Fiji” and had taken giant leaps on socioeconomic, development and political fronts.
“The Fijian Government has invested resources in our infrastructure and economic development. It has taken great lengths to rid Fiji of corruption, which was the single largest constrain on our growth. Our economy, and the confidence in it, is growing despite challenges such as natural disasters and the global financial crisis”, Mr Ali said.
“We have made progress politically. The Constitution Review Commission is undertaking consultations (hearing submissions) as I speak. The Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, has personally reached out to the public of Fiji to make submissions to the Committee, in order to have a well-balanced and fair Constitution for all Fijians”.
He stated that “since the commencement of the Electronic Voter Registration process, almost half of Fiji’s population have now registered for Fiji’s first free and fair elections under the principle “one person – one vote – one value. All Fijians will now have equal right and equal suffrage to choose their Leaders”.
The Permanent Secretary informed the Ministers that these are exciting times for Fiji.
“The most amazing achievement has been that I am able to address you Honourable Ministers as a FIJIAN. Personally, I and my forefathers have waited for 4 long generations to be given National identity. All citizens of Fiji can now call themselves Fijians and are equal. This is proud achievement and milestone in our history. It is the present Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama that has given us this inalienable right” the Permanent Secretary stated at the meeting.
Mr Ali acknowledged those PACP states that recognised Fiji’s right as a full PACP member and supported Fiji’s participation and contribution in PACP meetings and activities, at the highest level. He further stated that “our calls for solidarity, dialogue and cooperation, as is the “Pacific Way”, were answered for the greater good of the region”.
“I am grateful for the foresight and wisdom shown by the PACP Trade Ministers in Tonga, for their support of Fiji and recommendations to the PACP Leaders that will take the region forward on all PACP matters”.
“We look forward to similar response from the PACP Leaders in their meeting in Cook Islands, this will not only reaffirm Fiji’s right as a full PACP member but also pave the way forward for greater regional trade and economic integration” stated the Permanent Secretary.