A small group of negotiators from the Pacific ACP States are meeting the European Commission (EC) in Brussels to resolve the outstanding and contentious issues in the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Fiji is represented in this Technical Working Group, by the Permanent Secretary for Industry and Trade, Mr. Shaheen Ali.
“During the last Joint Technical Working Group between the Pacific ACP and the EC, in October this year, it was decided that a small Working Group from the Pacific ACP will undertake further technical meetings with the EC to bring convergence to some of key outstanding issues, including fisheries, development cooperation and trade in goods. Fiji was chosen to be part of this Group with 4 other PACP States” said Mr. Ali.
Considerable progress has been made over the past three days of the talks, which is an indication that both parties (the PACP States and the EU), are committed to work in the spirit to achieve a genuine partnership” added Mr. Ali.
Mr. Ali stated that Fiji has assisted the Pacific ACP side in progressing talks on allowing greater flexibility in the ‘rules of origin’ for PACP exports under EPA. The rules of origin under EPA, sets the criteria for products that can qualify for preferential access into the EU market. The rules are usually based on whether the goods are ‘wholly obtained’ such as agricultural commodities or based on an allowable percentage of local content or value addition for manufactured goods.
“Fiji presented product-specific examples, where flexibility in the EU rules of origin, such as easing of local content requirement and allowing the PACP to source raw material from the most cost effective sources could facilitate genuine local PACP exports to the EU. Life-jackets, which are produced and manufactured in Fiji, to international standards, was presented as a prime example of a local manufactured product that can benefit from preferences under EPA”, said the Permanent Secretary.
“These examples were based on Fiji’s National Stakeholder Consultations with the Fijian Private Sector, facilitated by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), on 27th March 2012. Other Pacific ACP states will also complete their national consultations on rules of origin provisions of the EPA, following which a consolidated submission with analysis and data will be given to the EC”, said Mr. Ali.
The Permanent Secretary further stated that with regards to other issues, both parties narrowed their differences on key provisions in the EPA.
“Both parties will discuss fisheries issues, including “global sourcing” flexibility in the ROO for the export of fresh, frozen and chilled fish fillets and steaks, this week”, said Mr. Ali.
“The current rules does not allow PACP States to source fish, for processing purposes, from foreign flagged or foreign owned vessels, even if the fish is caught within the PACP EEZs” added Mr. Ali.
Global Sourcing is an important derogation from present rules of origin and will enable Pacific ACP States to source fish from non-PACP vessels, for on-shore processing and export to the EU, duty free. Most PACP states do not have their own fleets therefore do not qualify to export fisheries products into EU under normal rules.
“Often, fisheries resources are harvested by foreign vessels for a set license fee or access fee, at times even illegally and usually further processed outside the Pacific region, with benefits also flowing out of the region”.
“More flexible rules will allow the Pacific ACP States to derive maximum benefits from their fisheries resources, especially for the small island states that do not have the infrastructure or the ships but have the abundant fisheries resources. It will ensure that fish caught in Pacific waters is processed in the PACP States, accruing investments, jobs and socio-economic development”, stated the Permanent Secretary
“These discussions are crucial to the Pacific ACP countries and will enable us to negotiate an EPA that delivers genuine trade, development and socio-economic benefits”, said Mr. Ali.