Critical stage in Pacific trade showdown with Europe | Pacific Beat

Critical stage in Pacific trade showdown with Europe

Critical stage in Pacific trade showdown with Europe

Updated 13 June 2013, 10:02 AEST

Trade relations between the Pacific and Europe are on a knife edge.

Pacific Trade Ministers have still had no reply from Europe to their threat to walk away from long-running Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations.

Earlier this week, Islands Business magazine obtained a copy of a letter sent to European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht by the Pacific's lead spokesperson on the Economic Partnership Agreement talks, Tonga's Minister for Commerce, Dr Viliame Uasike Latu.

In the letter Dr Latu said Pacific Trade Ministers are alarmed at proposals being made by Europe and deeply concerned about Europe's treatment of the region.

He told the Commissioner Gucht that if no tangible progess is made before the Pacific Islands leaders meeting in September, the negotiations for a much sought-after Agreement are likely to be terminated.

Despite publicity surrounding the leaked letter, Dr Latu has not had a reply to that letter or to one sent last year.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Dr Viliame Uasike Latu, Pacific lead spokesperson on Economic Partnership Agreement talks with Europe and Tonga's Minister for Commerce, Tourism and Labour.

Dr Viliame Uasike Latu, CEO, Department of Commerce, Tourism and Labour, Tonga

GARRETT: The stakes are high and the Pacific has had enough.

After a decade of time-consuming talks for an Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe there are many complex issues still in contention and negotiations are going backwards.

Tonga's Commerce Minister Dr Viliame Latu is lead spokesperson for the 14 Forum Island countries involved.

LATU: All the member countries are very disappointed with the European Union especially the failure to respond to some of the outstanding issues that the Pacific Trade Ministers have raised in the past 10 years. As a member country we think we have been mistreated by EC especially when it comes to fisheries issues.

GARRETT: The Pacific is home to more than half the world's tuna and European fishing boats are as keen to be granted access those from the rest of the world.

Minister Latu has accused Europe of pursing its own interests and trying to turn the Economic Partnership Agreement into a Fisheries Treaty which would rewrite Pacific laws and undermine country's sovereignty.

As times get tougher in Europe, Europe has got tougher on the Pacific.

In 2009, PNG broke with its neighbours to sign an interim Economic Partnership Agreement,

It gives fish caught in PNG waters duty free and quota free access to the European market - a provision PNG is using to build itself into a global tuna power.

The Pacific wants to be be able to send its fish to PNG to be processed and to have similar acess to european markets but c, one of the key negotiators, says that is now looking unlikely.

MOEAKI: What the Pacific want to safeguard is what was granted to both the interim agreement, where both Fiji and PNG have signed. Their revised postion where they are already back-tracking from that, from what was laready granted, because the interim was meant to a stepping stone for the comprehensive agreement.

GARRETT: For many Pacific countries fish is their one big resource.

Mr Moeaki says another key Pacific demand is to extend the generous provisions allowed for PNG tuna to other species such as sword fish and crustaceans.

MOEAKI: We want an extension to include other fish products not just tuna. If they don't have a packing facility for tuna then they would need to be able to source their fisheries catch and transport it to the next Pacific Isalnd country that can package it and export it to the EC. Without that being enabled through the provisions of the Agreement there is no scope for small Island countries to benefit.

GARRETT: Pacific Trade Ministers are so dissappointed with Europe's failure respond to their requests that they are ready to take the extraordinary step of walking away from the talks.

As the Pacific's lead spokesperson Dr Viliame Latu told his European counterpart in his recent letter Pacific Leaders have given a clear directive to conclude negotiations by the end of 2013. He must report to them when they meet in early September.

That means the final opportunity to rescue the talks comes at a technical working group meeting at the end of this month.

Dr Latu says the threat to walk away from the Economic Partnership agreement is not an idle one.

LATU: All the neighbour countries are serious about pulling out. We have been trying for a long time. Ten years is a long time for us and we are serious about that.

GARRETT: Have you had any response to your letter of June the 4th to the European Trade Commissioner yet?

LATU: So far I haven't received any response. I wrote a letter last year and I still haven't had any response, and this is my second letter, since I became lead spokes person.

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