Government held bilateral talks with the European Commission earlier this month discussing a range of issues related to enhancing Fiji’s trade and development relations with the European Union (EU).
The discussions were led by the Permanent Secretary for Industry and Trade, Shaheen Ali.
The meeting took place in the margins of the Joint Technical Working Group (JTWG) meeting between the Pacific African Caribbean Pacific (PACP) States and the European Commission in Brussels.
Mr Ali met Peter Thompson, the director for Development and Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Units, at the Directorate General Trade (DG Trade), in the European Commission on October 4.
“The purpose of the meeting was to elevate Fiji’s bilateral economic and trade engagement with the EU, whilst negotiations were taking place on the regional comprehensive EPA, between the PACP states and the EU,” Mr Ali said.
“We emphasised the existing mechanisms such as the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (I-EPA) that was signed by Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the EU in 2009.
“We told them of the progressive step taken by Fiji towards mapping out an implementation action plan for I-EPA, despite concerns regarding unresolved issues.”
Mr Ali said Fiji asked to be part of I-EPA Trade Committee discussions, whilst the Fijian Government was assessing the ratification and implementation of the I-EPA.
“The European Commission has been very receptive to take the discussions further,” he told Sun Business.
“Fiji also has recently submitted its notification on ‘global sourcing’ for canned fish as per the requirements under I-EPA, indicating Fiji’s strong interest to benefit from the favourable rules on the export of canned fish.
“We will await the response from the European Commission on our notification.”
Global sourcing rules extension
Mr Ali also mentioned that Fiji, along with the other PACP states, was seeking an extension of these global sourcing rules to fresh, frozen and chilled fish under the regional Comprehensive EPA negotiations, which was also discussed in the JTWG.
This is expected to not only benefit Fiji, but other Small Island States (SIS) in the Pacific that do not have canneries.
Global sourcing benefits
“Global sourcing provisions, i.e. derogation from existing rules for fisheries exports, will provide great opportunities to local fisheries companies in the Pacific and Fiji,” Mr Ali said.
“These companies will be able to source fish from foreign vessels and neighbouring island waters and land and process it in their jurisdictions.
“After processing, the finished products will qualify for duty free entry into the European Union.”
Earlier, during the JTWG, Fiji had made a case, on behalf of the Pacific, relating the experience of Fiji and Kiribati, which provided a credible evidence of increased potential private investments and jobs, if global sourcing rules on fresh, frozen and chilled fish was granted to the PACP states.
Competent authority to maintain standards
The European Commission and Fiji also discussed issues relating to maintaining health and safety standards through the ‘competent authority’ established in Fiji for this purpose.
Both sides agreed that the ‘competent authority’ in Fiji and other related agencies needed to be strengthened to combat Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries.
In this regard, Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries will provide the European Commission a six months report, outlining the long term action plan and the specific areas where assistance is required.
Enhancing trade capacity
Both sides agreed that targeted European Development Funds (EDF) could enhance the trading capacity of the PACP states and facilitate trade between the Pacific and the EU.
Mr Ali said the upcoming cycle of European aid, i.e. EDF 11, needed to take ‘out of the box’ approach to deliver tangible benefits to PACP states and Fiji.
Fiji’s progress update
The European Commission was updated on Fiji’s current progress on socio-economic and political reforms.
Mr Ali underscored the successful milestones achieved by the Bainimarama Government, such as the electronic voter registration process that has registered more than half of Fiji’s population and the constitutional review commission that was currently receiving submissions from all segments of the community.
Mr Ali informed the European Commission that our Government was encouraging all Fijians to contribute and participate in building a better future for Fiji. He confirmed the European Commission was impressed with the progress Fiji was making and was willing to assist Fiji.
“They hope for further opportunities for dialogue with the Fijian Government in the near future,” Mr Ali said.
Deputy Secretary for Trade and Investment, Sovaia Marawa and Second Secretary, Fiji Embassy Brussels, Setaita Tupua-Kalo, were also part of Fiji team in the meeting.
The European Commission delegation included Sandra Gallina, head of Unit Trade (EPA-ACP Territories) and Joachim Zeller, Economic and Trade Affairs manager (EPA).