The new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade has called on Pacific ACP Trade Ministers to protect the integrity of the positions of the PACP States and retain the unity of the Group in the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.

Mr Slade, who started work with the Secretariat on 13th October, was delivering his first official speech at the opening of the PACP Trade Ministers Meeting which got underway in Nadi, Fiji today.

The two-day meeting attended by 14 Forum Island Countries will discuss the progress so far in the negotiations of the EPA with the EU and the way forward as the extended deadline of the end of this year draws near, the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and the Pacific Agreement for Closer Economic Relations (PACER) between the Forum Island Countries and Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Slade told the Ministers: "Much time and industry has been devoted to the Economic Partnership Agreement by your Excellencies, by senior officials and by the Forum Secretariat. The negotiations are now at a critical stage, and important decisions need to be made."

"This meeting will need to set directions for the time ahead. Without question, there is need to protect the integrity of the positions of the PACP States and retain the unity of the Group," Mr Slade said.

The Ministers will discuss the report of the Joint Technical Working Group which continued with the EPA negotiations last month in Brussels.

"To advance the negotiations, we need to set the way forward, and the officials are proposing a number of options to assist the Ministers in determining the best course of action for the region. Your Secretariat remains committed and ready to assist," Mr Slade told the Ministers.