PRESS STATEMENT - Thursday, 3rd February 2011 - The Pacific ACP region is not alone in its struggle to negotiate a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).

"On the international stage, ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations have reached a stalemate in all regions except for the Caribbean," said the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade.

"There are still many areas that require further consideration by Pacific ACP Ministers. There are a range of contentious issues that require Ministers' guidance and direction. Some of these contentious issues are unique to the region; others are identical to those faced by other ACP countries, especially in Africa. These must be resolved if we are to move forward, and this will require flexibility both on the part of Pacific ACP States and the European Union."

Mr Slade was addressing Pacific ACP Ministers at their meeting being held today in Apia, Samoa, to consider various regional trade issues, including progressing negotiations with the EU on a comprehensive EPA.

"Work carried out on advancing an EPA intensified in 2010, and was one of the busiest for the Secretariat in this area of work," said Mr Slade. "In the last year, trade officials, with the Secretariat, have worked hard to prepare for the next meeting with the European Commission. They have undertaken substantial work on market access offers, and up to seven countries are now ready to move forward with these offers.

"Much work has been carried out by the Secretariat in support of officials, and I assure you that the Secretariat, at the direction of PACP States, remains fully committed to progressing and concluding these important negotiations."

Meetings of fisheries and trade officials have made progress on outstanding issues in the fisheries chapter, and customs text has been considered and drafted in close consultation with customs officials.

"During this time the Forum Secretariat has benefitted from the advice provided by the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Oceania Customs Organisation, and their support has been essential in this work."

Market access, however, is not enough to create truly beneficial outcomes for our communities according to Mr Slade.

"The Pacific must remain firm in its position that the Economic Partnership Agreement must go beyond market access and have a strong development focus. Only then will our most vulnerable nations truly benefit, in a sustainable manner, from this strategic partnership with the European Union.

"Development cooperation is an integral part of the EPA, and additional, sustainable resources are required to support EPA implementation and the development of the private sector."

Ministers will consider the 2011 Draft Strategy prepared by the Secretariat which reviews the Economic Partnership Agreement and sets out various options for the Pacific ACP States to progress and conclude the negotiations.

"We must determine a clear strategy to bring these negotiations to a conclusion. PACP Ministers' guidance in this area is critical, and will map out the path ahead," Mr Slade said.

"With respect to PICTA issues, implementation of commitments is lacking and requires special attention and commitment by all Parties and Signatories. I wish to encourage all those PICTA parties that have yet to complete their domestic legislative changes to hasten the process so that trade under PICTA can intensify.

"Your meeting today will also consider the WTO issues including an update on the Doha Development Agenda and Forum Island Country accession to WTO as well as an update on the operations of the Forum Office in Geneva. Finally you will also be briefed on issues pertaining to Aid for Trade in the Pacific and current Programmes supporting related activities in the region. "