PRESS STATEMENT - Wednesday, 16 February 2011 - Pacific ACP Trade Ministers have reconfirmed their commitment to the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA).

At their meeting held earlier this month in Apia, Samoa, Ministers committed to advancing a range of initiatives currently in place under the trade agreement.

PICTA seeks to strengthen, expand and diversify trade between the Forum Island Countries through the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade within the region.

Seven countries have already put in place necessary domestic arrangements to accord preferential import duties to goods originating from parties to PICTA. These parties are Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

"I am happy to note that other countries are continuing work at the national level to progress their readiness to trade under PICTA," said the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade.

Ministers also confirmed the continuation of PICTA trade in services negotiations, inclusive of a temporary labour mobility arrangement among Parties to PICTA.

"Trade in services is an integral part of broader regional economic integration that is being sought under PICTA," said Mr Slade.

Countries are seeking to conclude the PICTA trade in services negotiations by end 2011.

The fifth round of the PICTA trade in services negotiations will be held in Palau, from 16-18 March 2011.

Ministers also considered the inclusion of government procurement into PICTA and agreed on the need for improved transparency and efficiency of their government procurement systems.

"Improvements of national procurement systems are crucial prior to related inclusion in any regional trade agreement," Mr Slade emphasised. "The Secretariat will be working with other regional and international agencies to assist Forum Island Countries improve their government procurement systems."

"Trade officials will liaise with relevant agencies at the national level to determine the impact of the inclusion of government procurement into PICTA."

Over the next months, Forum Island Countries will also be undertaking national consultations on the feasibility of the inclusion of alcohol and tobacco in the PICTA, for further consideration by the trade Officials and Ministers later in the year.

Given the broadening of PICTA to include trade in services and other elements of trade liberalisation among Forum Island Countries, the Ministers endorsed the drafting of a comprehensive PICTA that will cover both trade in goods and trade in services, and other flexibilities in support of increased trade and regional economic integration.