Rarotonga COOK ISLANDS, 30 August 2012/ ACP: The Secretary General of the Brussels-based Secretariat for the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas applauded Pacific Island leaders in their commitment to conclude trade talks with the European Union (EU) as a full group.

Dr Chambas said the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) negotiations, ongoing with the Pacific since 2004, were one of the “principal concerns” facing ACP-EU relations.

Out of 15 Pacific ACP states, only Papua New Guinea and Fiji have initialled or signed interim EPAs. The region aims to conclude talks as a full group by the end of the year.

“The decision by Pacific Leaders to reaffirm their commitment to conclude a comprehensive regional EPA, inclusive of all Members, beyond what has been signed by two members in the region is highly commendable. What is necessary now is for the Pacific region to move as one in order to foster and strengthen regional integration,” Dr Chambas told Pacific ACP Leaders in Rarotonga, Cook Islands ahead of the Pacific Leaders’ Forum this week.

He noted frustrations voiced by Pacific ACP states, demanding more engagement from the European side on market access offers and requests for meetings submitted by the region.

The Commission has also proposed to withdraw Market Access Regulation 1528/2007 if countries that initialled EPAs do not close negotiations by the end of December 2013. Under this change, those not classified as Least Developed Countries will lose duty free and quota free access to EU markets. The European Parliament is set to vote on the proposal on September 12.

“It also seems likely that ACP countries that are in the high and upper middle income categories will also miss out on the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) following a European Commission proposal to revise the scheme in a manner that will graduate them out of the benefits. Such inflexibility is unhelpful to the necessary progress that needs to be made towards finalising the EPAs,” added Dr Chambas.

He urged the region to enhance cooperation and integration to tackle common challenges and promote the region’s economic development.

The Pacific ACP leaders plan to seek a meeting with the European Commission to finalise EPAs following a joint technical meeting to address “contentious issues” of the trade agreement in October.

For further inquiries contact Press Attachee Josephine Latu-Sanft Tel +32 2 7430617 Email latu@acp.int