Some Pacific, Caribbean and African states have duty free and quota free access to European Union markets.
The E-U is considering changing that so that only nations classified as "Least Developed" have those advantages, unless they have signed a Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU before the end of the year.
CHAMBAS: I think it was clearly a victory for the African-Caribbean-Pacific states. The vote was a prudent one in that the vote asked for an extension of the quota-free, duty free status that prevails now and has given an extension of up to December, 2016, to allow for the negotiations on the economic partnership agreement to be concluded. So we are pretty satisfied with that, that's exactly what we advocated for and we believe that the parliament has taken a very prudent decision in supporting the position of the ACP countries asking for an extension.
COUTTS: What would you like to see happen between now and the end of the new deadline next year?
CHAMBAS: I think not accepting the arbitrary deadline that the European Commission had requested creates a more ambient environment, a more serene environment, and those negotiations can continue. The Economic Partnership Agreements are complex, they involve issues, different subjects and topics that are complicated and our negotiators should not be negotiating under duress. They need reasonable time to come to terms with the complex issues that are involved, so by the end of the day, the agreements that will be reached will be balanced and will take into account that developmental needs of ACP states, including, of course, Pacific states who are members of our group.
COUTTS: You are advocating that the Pacific stay together and vote as a bloc and sign on as a bloc. Is that still your position?
CHAMBAS: Absolutely, and in fact we're expecting a delegation from the Pacific states here in Brussels later this month to come and meet with the European negotiators. Of course the Pacific team will come as a bloc and now that the European Parliament has granted an extension, the team will not feel constrained and will not feel under duress to negotiate based on an official timeline that has been set, so they can come and sit down and negotiate the outstanding contentious issues that are there without any real time pressure to reach agreement that may not be balanced and that may not take into account the peculiar developmental needs and the vulnerabilities that small island states, such as Pacific states are exposed to.
COUTTS: It's been reported that some Pacific states have actually signed onto the agreement already and Fiji being one of them. Is Fiji a special case, given that their relationship with the EU for sugar and the parlous state that the sugar industry is in in Fiji at the moment?
CHAMBAS: Well, I can understand pressures that certain countries may feel, especially when there was a threat to withdraw to duty-free, quota-free access to them. That threat is not reality now. So inspite of Fiji, for instance, signing and also incidentally Papua New Guinea also signing and ratifying an interim agreement, we believe the opportunities now presented for an all Pacific way, a comprehensive, economic partnership agreement. So we still advocate strongly that these countries negotiate and come to an agreement as a bloc, one that will, of course, not only support their development, but an agreement that also reinforces regional integration because of the benefit that regional integration also brings to the Pacific countries.
COUTTS: Well, PNG and Fiji, of course, are some of the larger trading nations of the Pacific. PNG probably has a bigger stick to wield, because of its enormous minerals and LNG and mining projects that it's about to launch into. So is that the reason that perhaps they see it's OK to go alone?
CHAMBAS: Well as I said, yes, they did sign interim agreements, but I think the stage is now set for negotiating a comprehensive all Pacific ACP states agreement.
COUTTS: And that's what I was driving at. Does it mean that PNG and Fiji should perhaps renegotiate and join the Pacific bloc or but can they remain outside that?
CHAMBAS: Well, I think they definitely should be part of the process of a comprehensive agreement and it is our understanding that the interim agreements have provisions that they will be subsumed under comprehensive agreements when those region-wide agreements are reached. So it is our expectation that negotiations will continue with the Pacific region as I indicated. We expect a delegation here in Brussels 28th, 29th of September, to come and pursue the discussions with the European Commission with a view to agreeing a comprehensive agreement which would then subsume the interim agreements that have been signed by Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
The objective is to ensure that the regional integration process which is on course in the Pacific or any of our ACP regions is not disrupted.