Islands Business:

Keep fisheries/EPA negotiations separate

By James Movick*

January 2014

As Pacific nations left the Cairns WCPFC 10 (Tuna Commission) meeting in early December, some delegates had one more meeting to attend before heading back to the homes and offices they had not seen for at least two weeks.

They flew to Honiara, where the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat had organised a Pacific ACP meeting of officials, including Fisheries Ministers, hosted by the Solomon Islands Government at the FFA’s Regional Conference Centre.

The Pacfic Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is not a participant in the EPA. Our role is to support and provide objective advice to PACP members of FFA on the fisheries management and development aspects of the Economic Partnership Agreement, or EPA, negotiations. The nature of the agency’s representation in the EPA negotiations may have created an impression that FFA is under pressure, or is pressuring PACPs into signing an EPA.

That impression is correct only insofar as the pressure that we are responding to is from FFA member governments and tuna investment stakeholders who want to see increased tuna processing investment and trade in the region.

Now, the FFA’s advice in the EPA preparatory process is admittedly sector specific.

We recognise there are other issues that also have to be resolved, and that it is the role of regional trade officials to reconcile the various interests and issues to produce an appropriate EPA package.

On the trade development and investment side, FFA has reflected its experience assisting PICs to attract, evaluate and implement increased investment and exportation to create employment, government revenues and income generation through the processing of tuna resources.

It is a fact that larger scale domestic and foreign investors do place much importance on securing preferential EU market access as a key factor for the viability of initial operations and thus in making their final decision to invest in processing in the region. Some PACPs actually have large and serious investors ready to invest, just waiting for this outcome, and those governments could clearly benefit from the jobs, revenue and income created.

Given that the EPA negotiations have dragged on for 10 years now, FFA has strongly urged negotiators to take into account that much has changed, and continues to change, in the international tuna industry.

The Pacific Islands Countries are losing opportunities to get actual jobs, income and trade into place before global competition increases further. If preferred fisheries market access and tangible economic benefits cannot be secured in a timely manner for the Pacific ACP, the fisheries sector are well within their rights to ask a pertinent question—why waste more time and money on talks?

On the other hand, Papua New Guinea, which entered into an Interim EPA with the European Union in 2008, has attracted significant new investment because of this market access. Already enjoying onshore processing benefits, it has established two new tuna processing plants since 2011, with two more underway.

Reports from the PNG National Fisheries Authority put the total number of those directly employed from these ventures at 13,500, with the potential to go as high as 27,000 more jobs through indirect employment. With regard to tuna conservation and management provisions proposed to be included in the EPA, the FFA has made it clear to the EU that FFA members have a long and successful history of tuna fisheries management.

This management system, developed by FFA members, based on PIC regional characteristics, has resulted in the Pacific still enjoying the healthiest tuna stocks amongst all of the global regions. Making the most of the venue for the EPA meeting, we were able to give the EC Trade Commissioner an eye-opening tour of the FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre to demonstrate this regional capability.

In the EPA negotiations, FFA’s advice has been consistent and clear. Technical conservation and management elements for fisheries should not be detailed in a trade agreement. They are best dealt with in a fisheries context between responsible fisheries officials of the PACP and the EU.

This is what I conveyed to the Pacific ACP Fisheries Ministers and Officials in Honiara last month. It will inform our ongoing support to member countries in the ACP.

FFA will continue to advocate strongly for the best possible outcomes that utilise the region’s fisheries resources to create jobs, income and economic expansion from which the Pacific people can benefit. It is a founding vision that will continue in 2014 and beyond.

• James Movick is the director-general of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

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