A three days national consultation process on the EU-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) has been completed in Honiara on Wednesday.
The consultation engages a broad range of stakeholders including the private sector, the government and non-government organizations (NGO’s).
Speaking at the opening, Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Hon. Clay Forau said the consultation is an important process that gathers views from different groups to ensure Solomon Islands policy position on the EPA is beneficial to the country.
“Government cannot make policy without consulting its stakeholders; after all it is the private sector that actually trades not civil servants. You understand the reality, the difficulties and the potential on the ground,” Mr Forau told participants.
“We need you to help us put together our negotiating positions and I hope we have constructive and open discussions,” he added.
Formal negotiations with the E.U. and the Pacific region after a long three year break were recommenced at the end of 2012.
The EPA can be a powerful instrument that can be used to stimulate and promote economic growth and sustainable development with the ultimate objective of alleviating poverty and raising the living standards of Solomon Islands citizens.
Due to the great importance of this agreement the Government is committed to resolving negotiations as quickly as possible noting that they have gone on for over 8 years.
The Solomon Islands is pleased there was progress in negotiations at the JTWG (Joint Technical Working Group) in Brussels at the end of last year and there was a fruitful exchange of views on the main outstanding issues.
“The EPA has great potential and we were glad of the recent progress made in Brussels but I was disappointed that the E.U. opened the most recent negotiations by backtracking on some of the benefits already contained within the Interim Agreement,” Mr Forau said.
Most notably is the coverage of the global sourcing rules for canned fish and cooked loins. Despite persistent calls from the Pacific side for the E.U. to give assurances that the benefits already gained by PNG and Fiji in the IEPA will be extended to all other Pacific countries, this guarantee was never forthcoming.
Minister Forau hopes the contentious issue can be resolved shortly and he look forward to seeing the results of the working groups, the results of which will be considered by the next JTWG (Joint Technical Working Group) in March 2013.
At the upcoming technical working groups the PACPS will be looking for the EC to demonstrate heightened flexibility to cater for the special circumstances of our region.
In doing so, it will be necessary to ensure that the regional EPA will truly reflect the regional particularities of the Pacific and be designed to enable us, together, to build the partnership over time.
Solomon Islands continues to see the EPA as an instrument that will form the foundation of a long-term, evolving partnership based on economic and trade cooperation between Europe and the Pacific.
Solomon Islands remains committed to conclude its negotiations by building on the positive progress that has been made thus far.
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