The EC Trade Commissioner has called for a deferment of the CEPA negotiations for three years and seeks reforms of the region’s fisheries management systems. Pacific nations have expressed their strong disappointment at the EC’s decision -- particularly in light of the reassurance of the European Union’s (EU’s) strong commitment to the CEPA process provided to Pacific leaders by the former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Catherine Ashton, at the Pacific Islands Forum in Palau in August 2014.
In echoing the Pacific States’ strong concerns with the EC’s proposal to defer the CEPA negotiations, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor highlighted that “the European Commission has not met the Pacific region in a formal face to face negotiation at senior officials level since October 2013 and has not met with Pacific ACP Trade Ministers for a formal negotiation since 2007. On the directive of Leaders, Pacific ACP States have invested substantial time and resources in the regional pursuit of a development friendly comprehensive EPA that resolves the contentious issues in the interim EPA. For the European Commission to propose a deferment of the negotiations without a formal political dialogue, particularly given its previous assurance to Pacific Leaders in 2014, is unacceptable.”
Secretary General Taylor also noted her disappointment at the EC’s continued attempts to get the bigger Pacific island nations to sign onto an interim EPA. Pacific island States and the EC had agreed that the interim EPA would be an “interim” arrangement and had committed to the negotiation of a CEPA. As it stands, the interim EPA would leave Smaller Island States behind as they do not have the capacity to benefit from the agreement: “the EC must recognise the asymmetric dimensions of this negotiation and must act accordingly and treat the Pacific region fairly by taking into account the interests of all PacificACP States, including Smaller Island States, in the negotiation on the development friendly CEPA and refrain from focusing only on the major economies in the region – this is the essence of regional economic integration.”
The negotiation for a CEPA with the EC has been ongoing since 2004. Secretary General Taylor noted that the European Commission had previously refused to meet the Pacific region from 2009 – 2011 and this led to a substantial delay in the progress of the CEPA negotiation, while other regions such as West Africa, Southern Africa and East Africa have been able to conclude CEPAs in 2014. Pacific island States have acknowledged that the outstanding contentious issues remaining in theCEPA negotiation will require political guidance, however, if the parties are to resolve these issues it will not be achieved through a deferment in the negotiation but through face to face engagement at the ministerial level.
In accordance with the EU’s commitments under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, a CEPA will provide for sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development, promote the increased participation of the Pacific region in global trade and make meaningful gains towards poverty alleviation.