PRESS STATEMENT - Monday 31st January 2011 - PACIFIC REGION PUSHES ON:Renewed impetus sought for Economic Partnership Agreement with EU

The Pacific region's top trade officials, experts and Ministers gather this week in Apia, Samoa, to deliberate on key issues surrounding negotiations with the European Union on a fair and comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Today Pacific ACP (PACP) Trade Officials begin discussions which will form the basis for advice to Pacific ACP Trade Ministers, who meet later in the week.

"These are going to be very challenging meetings, and very important ones," said the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade. "We are at a turning point where we must rally our efforts with renewed impetus, as one region, and as guided by our Leaders, to seek a truly mutually beneficial agreement with the European Union."

With the exception of the Caribbean, which has signed a comprehensive EPA with the EU, ACP regions are facing difficulties in concluding negotiations across the board.

"There are many and varied reasons for these difficulties, including the inability to resolve outstanding contentious issues," explained Mr Slade. "It is important to note, however, that many issues are common across all regions, and we must actively monitor EPA developments in other ACP regions, as any progress made elsewhere will affect our own negotiating positions."

"Since Pacific ACP Trade Ministers last met in June 2009 in Apia, much of the region's work has focused on technical preparations for negotiations," added Mr Slade.

"With support from the European Union, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has been assisting Pacific ACP States to construct their market access offers. These offers will form the basis for the next round of negotiations."

Trade officials and Ministers will also discuss regional trade issues related to engagement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Aid for Trade and developments under the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA).

The Pacific ACP Trade Ministers meeting begins in Apia this Thursday following the three-day meeting of Pacific ACP Officials.

Pacific ACP countries are a grouping of the Pacific Islands Forum's island countries, encompassing the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Republic of Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, that are members of the ACP Group.