AFX News Limited
Pacific countries confident of making deadline for EU trade agreement
PORT MORESBY (AFX) - Leaders of Pacific island countries said they were confident of meeting the end-of-2007 deadline for reaching agreement with the European Union on a preferential trade deal despite slow progress in negotiations.
Leaders and ministers from 16 Pacific countries which are members of the African, Carribean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries negotiating a trade agreement with the EU, gathered here ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in the Papua New Guinea capital.
Under the Economic Partnership Agreement, which is due to come into force at the start of 2008, the Pacific countries and other ACP members — former colonies of EU members — will get preferential trade treatment and aid from the EU but they will also have to allow similar concessions for EU goods and services.
Fiji’s Trade Minister Kaliopate Tavola said that negotiations between the Pacific countries and the EU on the agreement have been slow but he was confident the deadline would be met.
’There is concern our negotiations could be lagging a bit but it is better compared to other regions. We will step up the pace in 2006 and conclude them in 2007,’ he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
The areas to be focussed on in negotiations have been reduced from seven to four — trade in goods, trade in services, investment and fisheries, he said.
Papua New Guinea Trade Minister Paul Tiensten earlier told regional news service Pacnews that more help was needed from the secretariat of the Pacific Islands Forum to make progress in the negotiations.
He said he was concerned that the Pacific countries had not yet reached a regional position on some areas to be negotiated with the EU.
’We cant wait for the African and Caribbean (countries) to take the lead. We should be more proactive,’ he was quoted as saying.
Non-government groups have said the concessions for European goods and services will hurt local economies in Pacific island states. Under regional trade agreements the same concessions would have to be granted to the area’s largest trading partners, Australia and New Zealand, and this would have an even more serious impact.