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Concerns raised on value of trade deal

Fiji has raised some serious concerns on the value of the Economic Partnership Agreement to Fiji and the Pacific ACP (African Caribbean Pacific) States.

The Permanent Secretary for Industry and Trade, Shaheen Ali, raised these concerns whilst speaking at the ACP Ministerial Trade Committee Meeting in Brussels past week.

The Pacific ACP States have been negotiating the Economic Partnership Agreement for the past 10 years. Mr Ali said the region is now faced with three inevitable repercussions that may impede progress.

This, he said, were erosion of export preferences, the elimination of duty free access to the European Union market in 2014 and the removal of sugar production quotas in 2017.

“The value of the Economic Partnership Agreement the Pacific is negotiating with the European Union is declining, even before the agreement is concluded,” he said. “This is as the European Commission continues to finalise and engage in Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the developed nations and large emerging economies.”

Ministers meeting EC

The Attorney-General and Minister of Industry and Trade, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, is currently also in Brussels, attending the ACP Trade Minister’s meeting. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum and other Pacific ACP States’ Trade Ministers will meet with the European Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, this week.

They will discuss the current impasse in the Pacific ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations.

Third party negotiations

Meanwhile, Mr Ali said the European Union was free to negotiate deals with third parties. He however stated preferences in key export commodities of the Pacific, such as fisheries, sugar and kava are eroded by these agreements or through European Union’s own internal measures.

“This means that in the long term, the Economic Partnership Agreement will have limited market access benefits,” he said.

Mr Ali said the European Union is required to consult with the Pacific prior to undertaking measures that affects trade from the Pacific, with a view to arriving at remedial measures.

This is as per the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

Disastrous amendments

Mr Ali said amendments to market access regulations could prove disastrous.

“The situation has been exacerbated with the unilateral amendment to European Commission’s Market Access Regulations 1528 of 2007,” he said. “This will stop market access for countries that have signed but not ratified the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement.

“The imposed changes has created further uncertainty as it threatens to halt preferential exports from ACP States.

“This is despite the fact that negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement are incomplete. “This premature end of market access for Fiji could prove to be disastrous for the livelihoods of Fijians, especially in our sugar industry.”

EC’s unwillingness to negotiate

Mr Ali said even if we manage to successfully negotiate a mutually beneficial EPA by the 2014 deadline, we risk further unprecedented harm with the abolishment of the EU sugar quotas in 2017.

“The Pacific ACP States continues to negotiate in ‘good faith’,” he said. “However, the European Commission instead of also taking responsibility for the delays is penalising the ACP states, like Fiji, by removing crucial market access.

“The European Commission is not taking the PACP-EU EPA negotiations seriously and are not coming on board with the willingness to negotiate an agreement that is beneficial for both parties.

” Meetings with EC As the Pacific ACP region goes into discussion with the European Commission this week, Mr Ali underscored the need for the EPA to serve as an instrument for development through trade.

“The European Commission needs to work with Fiji and the Pacific ACP States to finalise a mutually beneficial and balanced EPA,” he said.

(Source: Fiji Sun)