Trade negotiators from the European Union (EU) and the Pacific African Caribbean and Pacific countries (PACP), for the first time in three years, met in Brussels this past week.
The purpose of the Joint Technical Working Group meeting from October 1 to 5 was to finalise negotiations on the draft EU-PACP Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) legal text.
The Fijian delegation to Brussels was led by the Permanent Secretary for Industry and Trade, Shaheen Ali.
The meeting discussed, amongst other outstanding issues in the draft Comprehensive EPA, fisheries provisions that would allow increased exports of fresh, frozen and chilled fish to the EU from the Pacific.
The PACP is seeking derogation from the rules to allow fish from foreign vessels (as well as local vessels) to be processed in Pacific factories and exported to the EU, at preferential tariff rates.
Global sourcing provisions
This is commonly known as ‘global sourcing’ rules.
The derogation would enable countries that lack fisheries resources to be able to source fish from approved sources, process it in their country and export it to the EU.
At the moment, the EU has agreed to grant this for canned fish from the Pacific.
The Pacific states are seeking extension of these rules to fresh, frozen and chilled fish.
Mr Ali said global sourcing provisions on fresh, frozen and chilled fish, if granted under the Comprehensive EPA, will accrue tangible and significant benefits.
“This would be in terms of investment, employment and growth in PACP states and will enhance their exporting capacity to the EU,” he said.
“It will provide the single major incentive for PACP states to enter into EPA.”
Mr Ali, in presenting the case on behalf of the PACP states, stressed that PACPs, amongst many disadvantages, had unique strengths.
He said this could be overcome with partnership and co-operation through the proposed global sourcing mechanism.
Mr Ali said global sourcing provisions under the EPA were not only important to Fiji, but the rest of the PACP states, especially those that do not have their own fleet or processing capacity.
“For example, Fiji has the infrastructure, the technical know-how and the conducive investment environment, however, lacks fisheries resources,” he said.
“Whilst other Pacific states may have abundant resources and excess labour supply but may lack processing capacity.
“This is where favourable trade rules fostering co-operation amongst PACP states could be immensely helpful.”
Mr Ali pointed out that the Fijian fishing industry’s main export markets, traditionally, had been United States and Japan.
He however said the EU could also develop as a major market, especially with the advantage of global sourcing rules.
“In 2011, Fiji exported approximately 42 tonnes tuna, albacore, swordfish, marlin, mahimahi and other species of fish to the EU, this can be further enhanced,” he said.
Private sector support
Mr Ali further acknowledged support from the Fijian private sector.
“Fiji’s private sector has come out strongly in support of this position stating there is a growing demand for Pacific fish in the EU, especially during the European summer when supply from the Indian Ocean countries (traditional suppliers) is low,” he said.
“The demand of fresh and frozen fish from the Pacific is growing in the EU market, and Fiji at present is unable to meet this growing demand.
“This is where the derogation from normal rules or the global sourcing rules will assist Fijian fisheries industry to source fish from neighbouring islands and export to the EU as qualifying products for duty free entry.
Mr Ali used the example of co-operation between Fiji and Kiribati to highlight the tangible economic and social benefits global sourcing framework would have on PACP countries.
“A Fijian fisheries firm has already invested in Kiribati by establishing a processing plant in Tarawa, creating jobs and income for the Kiribati people,” he said.
“The firm’s investment in both Kiribati and Fiji will increase substantially, which will create more jobs and economic benefits, if global sourcing provisions were granted to the PACP states, under the Comprehensive EPA.”
Mr Ali said the socio-economic benefits of this venture, is already evident with the community outreach and training sessions for local fisherman undertaken by the Fijian firm in Kiribati.
“Creation of jobs through this partnership, both in factory and in fishing vessels, has gone a long way in addressing challenges towards access to formal employment in Kiribati.”
Mr concluded saying under the proposed global sourcing framework, the inherent disadvantages of small island states and least developed countries (LDCs), such as lack of scale, infrastructure and expertise, would be overcome with co-operation and partnership (including joint ventures) amongst PACP states.