Plans for a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement are in jeopardy after the Pacific Island nations accused Europe of failing to respond to their requests and threatened to pull-out if Europe is unable to meet their deadline of the end of this year. The European Commission's Director responsible for Economic Partnership Agreements says Europe is willing to consider all the Pacific proposals but the timetable is unrealistic.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett reports.
Speakers: Dr Viliami Uasike Latu, Pacific lead spokesperson on Economic Partnership negotiations and Tongan Commerce Minister
Peter Thompson, Director for Economic Partnership Agreements, European Commission
GARRETT: The Pacific is angry. After 10 years of talks the 14 Island nations believe Europe is failing to respond their demands rendering the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement worthless.
Tonga's Commerce Minister Viliami Uasike Latu is the region's lead spokesperson for the negotiatons.
LATU: As a member country we think we have been mistreated by EC especially when it comes to fisheries issues.
GARRETT: On tJune 4th Dr Latu wrote a strongly worded letter to his European counterpart pointing out Pacific leaders have set the end of this year as a deadline. He warned if no tangible progress is made before the leaders meeting, in September, the negotiations could be terminated.
Peter Thompson, the European Commission's Director responsible for Economic Partnership Agreements, says he is surprised at the strong tone of the letter as the talks have already delivered an interim Agreement to Papua New Guinea which will create up to 50,000 jobs in tuna canning, through consessions such as duty free quota free access to European markets.
Mr Thompson says the other Pacific countries can join that agreement but on fisheries they have asked for more.
THOMPSON: They have asked to go into products beyond tuna and secondly, to do things which are reduced in the amount of work that would be added. Now, you need to know that in the ratification of the agreement with Papua New Guinea we had many, many questions in the European parliament about the nature of the goods that are coming in; 'Are they being caught in a sustainable way.' 'Is there conservation of the stocks,' and so on. So we had to go through a special study. That was the basis for further consultations with PNG so we had a very difficult task in negotiating and persuading our authorities about this. So if we are going to take further steps you need to understand it is going to be vitally important that we are extremely persuasive about the conservation and sustainable management systems in the Pacific. Those particular details we absolutely need to thrash out and frankly so far we haven't.
GARRETT: The Pacific always prided itself on conservation and it says Europe is trying to use a Trade agreement when it should go through usual fisheries channels.
Europe is sceptical. It has 3 Pacific countries in its sights for allowing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and it is not for turning.
THOMPSON: This is an agreement that is going to be approved of by 28 member states and the European parliament and when they are giving what they consider to be concessions on this, they need to be convinced that what is happening with regard to conservation and sustainable management of fisheries is appropriate, and they want to see it in the same document, and they want to see it signed off by the governments that subscribe to that agreement.
GARRETT: As PNG builds is status as a global tuna power the smaller Pacific countries say without other species of fish being included the benefits to them are likely to be be doubtful.
They want to see the Economic Partnership agreement focus on high-level principles rather than detail and have it concluded this year.
Peter Thompson, the European Commission's Director of negotiaions is frustrated.
THOMPSON: We don't have a time limit. It is the Pacific that has a time limit. If they say they want this to be done in a matter of months I do not see that as reasonably possible. I have had 30 years of negotiations in my life and frankly with the number and depth and complication of issues that we have in front of us I do not see this as being just a few months work.
GARRETT:A lot of work has gone into this, ten years. When do you think negotiations could be concluded, realistically?
THOMPSON: That is the $64,000 questions because it depends on the substance and the progress. I wouldn't wish to make a prediction on that. For us there isn't a particular time limit. But frankly, I think we will see that other countries will perhaps examine the interim Agreement that we have with PNG and say, given the amount of time this particular negotiation is taking, and given our interest and a number of countries have flagged that to me privately, I think that our approach will be to join that agreement, but that is for them to decide. We stand ready to work with our friends in the Pacific to try to deal with the substance of first of all, their request, and the need on our side, to find the guarantees and reassurances about sustainable management and conservation of stocks and so on and take them one by one but at this stage I wouldn't wish to say this is another years work or two years work because it depends on the speed and, frankly, so far some of the answers have been a bit thin.
Whether the talks can be rescued is unclear.