EU promises are hollow, claim Pacific civil society groups

The Pacific is being short changed. The European Union has promised to support development in the Pacific, but so far these promises have not been fulfilled. Civil Society groups from 12 Pacific countries meeting in Nadi, question what's in it for the Pacific in negotiations on a Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU.

The representatives of churches, trade unions, national business, farmers, environment, social justice, women's groups and other NGOs urge their Governments to be united in their position on the EPA negotiations. The EPA negotiations aim to set the conditions of trade between the EU and the Pacific member states and are expected to replace current agreements covered under the non-reciprocal Cotonou Partnership Agreement from the beginning of 2008.

Pacific governments need to have solidarity when they negotiate for the EPA with the European Union. Additionally, this unity needs to extend to other developing countries who are struggling to get fair trade rules internationally.

These negotiations are moving quickly before there has been enough groundwork. There needs to be independent and objective social impact assessments carried out at the national level that will address issues of poverty and vulnerability, environment and culture. This should include the participation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and people most likely to be affected by the trade agreement.

The lack of meaningful consultation and transparency on the EPA is a concern for civil society. It seems that it is only government trade officials and their counterparts in the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat who have knowledge on the EPA and what it offers. The regional CSO group is fearful that the EPA trade negotiations are being carried out purely on the basis of theoretical economic analysis.

Civil Society organizations are calling for a programme of public education to inform the public about important issues that are being decided over the next year. This should include involvement of a range of Government departments (other than trade), trade unions, the church, private sector, environmental groups etc. as well as local communities. CSOs are committed to undertake public education and call on Governments to provide more information and engage in open and meaningful dialogue.

Particular provisions in the negotiations which could cause dangers to Pacific societies include the local impacts of foreign fisheries, unregulated tourism, lack of control over foreign companies, lack of government's right to regulate in the public interest, threats to public services such as water supplies and pressures for alienation and foreign control of land.

An example of these threats has been shown by Tonga's accession package to the World Trade Organisation currently being considered for ratification. Vanuatu rejected a similar deal in the past. CSOs consider that proposals for labour mobility need to be looked at carefully to include of issues of worker rights, social impacts and migration into the Pacific.

CSOs have made these calls on a number of occasions in the past. These issues are critical and need an urgent response.

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