The European Commission (EC) is currently negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement with the Pacific region. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has received an email from the Deputy Head of the Pacific desk in the EC's DG Development to the Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Forum, Peter Forau, in which the EC threatens to withhold aid from countries which refuse to sign up to proposed trade deals known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

The Samoan Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Solomon Islands Patteson Oti, and head of the Papua New Guinea delegation Mr. Valentine Kambori are prepared to comment on the record.

The email, dated 30 July, (attached) arrived on the same day as Trade Ministers gathered in Port Vila for a major internal discussion on the troubled EPA talks. It followed a meeting the previous week in which the same EC official said to Pacific Ministers "if you don't sign the EPA we'll cut your funding"

The email makes clear that:

- 48% of the EDF money (European Development Fund - the EU's principle aid mechanism for Least Developed Countries) allocated to regional programming for the Pacific would not be given unless they signed an EPA,

- 26% would not be allocated if they only signed a goods agreement without the additional provisions on trade in Services and Intellectual Property which the Commission wants them to agree to.

The Pacific Minister's interpretation of the meaning of the E-mail, in that it does threaten to remove EDF funding if the Pacific does not sign an EPA, has subsequently been confirmed by a European Commission Head of Delegation in Vanuatu today.

This was a shock to the Pacific Ministers responsible for negotiating these trade deals. They are furious that the EC is moving the goalposts five months before the deadline (until now there had been no direct linkage between EPAs and the EDF) and have written to the EC asking for clarification. They consider that the timing of this E-mail, received just before the Pacific Trade Ministers' meeting, is an inappropriate threat that is designed to put pressure on the Pacific to accept an agreement that is not in the interests of the Pacific's development.

This email in the Pacific is not an isolated incident. There have been complaints from other regions negotiating EPAs about ambiguous offers of EC aid (in last month's joint communique from the EC and East Africa (ESA) the EC "put forward that its support would depend on the level of ESA ambitions for EPA" - ie. if ESA isn't "ambitious" in the way the EC wants, support (aid) would be reduced. Some of these countries rely on EU aid for up to 50% of their national budgets. It is understandable that they feel threatened.

Best wishes,

Barry Coates
Executive Director
Oxfam New Zealand