EPA still possible

SUVA – A comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union (EU)and the Pacific is still possible, despite Fiji and Papua New Guinea opting for an interim agreement.

An optimistic head of the European Union Delegation for the Pacific, Ambassador Andrew Jacobs told PACNEWS in an exclusive interview on Friday that the EU remains committed to its mandate — and that is to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with the Pacific.

With Fiji informing Brussels of its intention to apply the interim EPA, it joins PNG in formalising its arrangements under the interim agreement.

When questioned if the decision by Fiji and PNG to break from the proposed regional arrangement affect the comprehensive EPA, Ambassador Jacobs said, “the option of signing up to an interim EPA is available to all Pacific Island Countries, if for any reason it’s not possible to finalise a comprehensive agreement”.

“That is very much in the hands of the Pacific. I know for the moment, Papua New Guinea is observing the negotiations of the EPA.

“If one of the countries dropped out, we will have to go back to ‘square one’. But fortunately we have the interim EPA on the table — if other countries, like Fiji and PNG wanted to sign up to the interim EPA, it is there. They can benefit from the provisions on the interim EPA, explained Mr Jacobs.

“Square one”, according to the EU Pacific head of delegations, means “going back to the EU members states for a new mandate to negotiate a new agreement”.

“If one or more countries chose to drop out of the comprehensive EPA, it would no longer exist because it has always intended to be an Economic Partnership Agreement for all Pacific countries. We don’t have an instruction or agreement from our member states to negotiate anything else,” Mr Jacobs told PACNEWS.

The EU is still optimistic even though there is a change of guard at the helm of the European Commission next month. The term of the current Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht who has been involved in the negotiations with the Pacific, comes to an end this month.