Suva, FIJI 27 July 2012/ PIFS Press Release:Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, has called on the Pacific region to intensify and accelerate its efforts towards regional integration.

In his remarks at the inaugural Pacific ACP Officials' Meeting at the Secretariat in Suva, Fiji on Friday, Mr Slade said: "As we seek to further engage with Europe in the context of the Economic Partnership Agreement, our efforts towards regional integration should be intensified and accelerated."

The Pacific ACP Leaders at their meeting in 2011 reaffirmed the need for a Pacific ACP Officials' Meeting prior to their annual meeting.

The one day meeting covered a range of subjects including the Pacific Regional Indicative Programme under the European Development Fund (EDF), progress of the Pacific region's negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, the progress report on the implementation of the Pacific Island Countries' Trade Agreement (PICTA), and the conclusion of the PICTA trade in services negotiations. There were also discussions on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus negotiations, the Pacific Trade and Development Facility and the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy.

"The Pacific region has an important relationship with the European Union (EU), which has been forged through historical links over time. Under the EU-ACP framework, Pacific ACP States have benefited from a number of substantial financial programmes and technical assistance provided through the European Commission (EC) and the EU Member States," said Mr Slade.

The Pacific ACP Officials' meeting discussed specific regional initiatives through which the Pacific's relationship with the European Union and the ACP group can be strengthened.

Forum Secretary General, Mr Slade explained: "The current focus of the Pacific Regional Indicative Programme on regional economic integration and the sustainable development of our natural resources and environment is helping the region identify specific ways in which we can build capacity in our islands, and overcome our isolation and vulnerabilities. The EU funding under the successive Pacific Regional Indicative Programmes has made significant contributions to the development of the region."

"Trade and cooperation agreements are an integral part of the broader economic integration agenda. Initiatives such as PICTA need to be pursued vigorously so that countries are able to undertake necessary reforms and adjustments and be better prepared to handle the pressures of a globalised economy.

"The efforts of Forum Island Countries to broaden PICTA to include trade in services, and at a later stage temporary labour mobility, are steps in the right direction. Many of our smaller economies would benefit from the expected stimulation of investments and increase in services in identified sectors," Mr Slade said.

He told the meeting that these regional agreements will better prepare the region's economies for engagement under the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, and also with respect to undertaking negotiations with Australia, New Zealand and other developed countries.

"Trade not aid is a familiar refrain and in our interactions with development partners we should seek to ensure improved arrangements to channel aid for the development of trade. These measures need to be strategic in nature with a clear expectation of sustainability. A refreshed and renewed Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy will be important in ensuring Forum Island Countries address and overcome constraints to increased international trade in goods and services," said Mr Slade.

The inaugural Pacific ACP Officials' meeting is Chaired by Dr Jim Gosselin, the Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Cook Islands.

– Pacific Island Forum Secretarait