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Fiji shuns meet

Fiji yesterday withdrew from the Pacific ACP (PACP) meeting in Solomon Islands organised by the Forum Secretariat “as a matter of principle.”

The meeting, meant to prepare PACP trade ministers for discussions with the European Union (EU) later in the week, was called by the Forum Secretariat before a full meeting of the PACP was allowed to take place, in direct contravention to the path agreed to by the member states.

Only six of 14 PACP trade ministers were able to attend on such short notice.

In a very strong statement to his fellow PACP trade ministers who were present, Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and Trade Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said that PACP countries needed to meet without the EU’s presence or pressure from the Forum Secretariat.

“The Pacific Trade Ministers who were present in Brussels [in October] had decided and agreed to meet separately in Fiji, not just for one day but for the necessary period required to resolve and strategise on the issues pertaining to the comprehensive EPA, vis-à-vis the outstanding and contentious issues,” he said.

He said that such a meeting would also allow PACP states to address the withdrawal of Papua New Guinea from the negotiations in Brussels, a crucially important issue surrounding the EPA negotiations.

The Attorney-General said that by calling “rushed” trade talks with the EU before this meeting was allowed to take place, the Forum Secretariat clearly had not fulfilled its responsibility to action the decisions of the ministers and the wishes of the member states.

“The Forum Secretariat is not here to act on behalf of the EU and they should not dictate directions to the members but provide technical advice and further our position,” he said.

He told his fellow ministers that the EPA was not something to play with or decide on the trot.

“The reality is that the Comprehensive EPA in its current form has enormous ramifications on our policy space, sovereignty and development, “ he said.

“It also constraints our ability to deliver basic socio-economic rights to our citizens.  The Fijian Constitution, assented to by the President on September 6, 2013, provides for unprecedented socio-economic rights, including the rights to housing, education, health, food and the right to economic participation. We cannot let any trade agreement prevent Fiji from providing these basic necessities to our citizens,” he said.

He stated that only as a united region could the Pacific achieve a better agreement that provided markets and at the same time ensured the sustainability of vital resources for the betterment of all Pacific Islanders.

He urged fellow PACP countries not to be pressured by the EU into finalising a deal or into moving into an agreement that is less than favourable and could have detrimental long term impacts.

“In this regard, we understand the urgency of Solomon Islands, who are perhaps being pushed into acceding to the Interim EPA to secure market access of their precious fisheries resources,” he said.

He said that they had reached a stage in the negotiations where the PACP grouping needed the political will from the highest level.

“The region’s leaders have been left out of the major developments in the PACP region and the EPA negotiations.  The PACP leaders need to meet and provide the mandate to us ministers and officials on the way in which the EPA needs to be progressed,” he said.

He repeated Fiji’s invitation to host a full PACP meeting at either the Leaders or Ministerial level.

He concluded his remarks by saying that Fiji’s decision to withdraw from the meeting did not mean that it was abandoning its regional neighbours.

“We are and have been from the start, a strong advocate of regional solidarity, which, perhaps has been to the chagrin of the Forum Secretariat and our detractors,” he said.

“We are committed to negotiating a Comprehensive EPA, but one that is favourable to all parties, has development at its core and which is for the benefit for all our citizens,” he said.

(Source: Fiji Sun)