Madame Chairperson of the Committee of Ambassadors, Secretary-General of the ACP Group, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I am delighted to be back here at the ACP House in the company of good friends and allies in a noble struggle: the struggle to raise up our people, build strong economies and assume the rightful place of the African, Caribbean and Pacific nations in world governance and the global system of trade. We are a voice for what is good and right for all of our citizens, and in ACP we have been able to project that voice because we have seized on our common experiences and common aspirations to create unity.

Excellencies, I regret that I couldn’t share in the deliberations at the 107th Session of the ACP Council of Ministers in Lomé, but the combination of my duties as President of COP23 and urgent matters at home kept me away.

The adoption of the ACP Negotiation Mandate for the Successor Agreement to the Cotonou Partnership Agreement is an important first step for us, and it lives up to the vision we have for our organisation to be the leading transcontinental organisation working to improve the living standards of our people. We do that through solidarity, through the South-South cooperation that has been so important in harnessing and sharing the innovations that we ourselves produce, and through North-South cooperation, which gives us access to new ideas, new resources and new technologies.

Excellencies, we have been successful in dealing with the European Union because we have collaborated, consulted and coordinated our efforts. We’ve made great progress, because we’ve remained true to our principles of unity and solidarity. Those principles are this group’s very foundation, a foundation to which we must hold fast if we are to secure our best possible future in a changing world.

We must now prepare well to negotiate a legally binding and pro-development successor Agreement with the European Union. That agreement must accelerate the political, economic and social advancement of our people through good governance, poverty eradication, trade, sustainable development and equitable integration into the world economy. And we must insist – at every turn – that it effectively address the new and emerging challenges, such as migration and climate change.

Specifically, that means an even greater focus on sustainable, resilient development, and space for accommodating developing and climate-vulnerable small island states, increasing regional trade and integration, and making development financing more accessible.

Excellencies, at this juncture, I wish to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to His Excellency the President and the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea for the generous offer to host an ACP Information Centre for South-South and Triangular Cooperation in Malabo. There is no doubt that the Centre will play an important role that is in keeping with the growing importance of South-South cooperation, which is encouraging innovation and generating new partnerships for tackling issues of food insecurity, poverty and sustainable agriculture.

Excellencies, Fiji’s relationship with the EU through the ACP Group has greatly benefited our sugar sector. The political dialogue process under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement has provided us with a platform to create better understanding of ways and means to deepen our relations.

The Fijian economy is on track to record its ninth straight year of economic growth, the longest sustained period of growth in our post-independence history. On the back of our economic success, we’ve increased disposable income and our foreign reserves; we’ve grown tax revenue while also making our tax regime fairer, more transparent and more efficient; and we’ve welcomed stronger and increasing business activity that has dropped unemployment in Fiji to the lowest rate recorded in 20 years.

Excellencies, trade in commodities remains crucial for the Fijian economy, and for many other ACP countries. For Fiji and several of our ACP brethren, sugar exports—especially to the EU—have been an important part of our domestic economies for a long time. In Fiji, more than 20 per cent of the population is supported in some way by sugar. However, our on-going efforts to value-add and undertake diversification initiatives need to be taken to another level.

As part of the EU’s move to make the EU sugar regime “market-driven”, last year saw the end of EU sugar quotas. At the same time, the traditional ACP sugar suppliers, including Fiji, were provided some accompanying support measures to adjust to the sugar-sector reform. That was a bit delayed in our case, but today, our sugar industry, with the EU support and our own resources, is in the midst of a major investment and modernisation programme.

In light of this, we expected to have some stability while EU sugar prices gradually declined to allow us to complete our modernisation programme and enjoy a period of positive return on the investment. However, we are now faced with a sharp decline of EU prices very soon after the abolition of EU sugar production quotas. Coupled with depressed world market prices, this poses a serious challenge to many of us.

I therefore support the ACP Group’s call for the EU to ensure that the ACP sugar suppliers are treated fairly and to urgently look at ways of addressing the current situation. Already, we are witnessing many ACP suppliers under the Economic Partnership Agreement who are unable to export sugar to the EU market, so it is clear that the current situation is far from sustainable and requires urgent intervention to address.

Excellencies, I would now like to turn to a critical matter that has occupied much of my time over the past year; the growing threat of climate change. Fiji is very pleased to have been able to contribute towards the ACP Group’s agenda on Climate Change. And in particular, the ACP Action Plan on Climate Change 2016- 2020, which seeks to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change in the ACP member states, while taking into consideration the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and efforts to reduce poverty. I note that the Action Plan will also contribute to enhancing action, prior to 2020 and before the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, on adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity building and transparency of action and support.

As we hold Presidency of COP23, we continue our campaign to complete the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement, and work to ensure that the Talanoa Dialogue leads to more ambition in our climate action plans. And we are steadily preparing for our handover of the Presidency to Poland, in December of this year, at COP24, where the Talanoa Dialogue will be a centrepiece.

This week, I participated in three high-level climate events—in Berlin and here in Brussels—designed to build momentum and bring about political commitments for fulfilment of the Paris Agreement Work Programme. For Fiji and Poland, in our roles as COP23 and COP24 presidents, will work with all stakeholders to advance action and raise ambition. In Berlin, we updated on the Talanoa Dialogue and discussed the completion of the Paris Agreement Work Plan. We also highlighted the importance of Climate Financing and the impacts of delaying ambitious action. And we’re encouraged by the stance of larger industrial nations towards this process.

Here in Brussels, the EU, alongside Ministers from the G20, Canada and China are sending strong signals that they wish to explore the core political issues in climate discussions and build common ground to support the negotiation process. So as COP23 President and a leader of a small island developing state, I can say that the journey here has been encouraging. However, we need to maintain momentum, keep the pressure on, and reaffirm our collective commitment. We use the term “advance ambition,” which is simply a way of saying “do more.” And we need to do more. If we want to slow the rate of climate change enough to make a genuine difference in the lives of our people and of the Earth, we have to set higher standards—higher standards for reduction of carbon emissions, greater access to climate financing and greater political will to do what we all know must be done. No nation, no matter how rich or poor, can escape its obligation.

Our close comradeship on critical global issues such as Climate Change is one of those great examples that show how the friendships in this room can change the lives of every person on earth for the better. When we work together, we can achieve tremendous good for our peoples and for our planet. And regardless of the challenges we have yet to face, I know we can all agree that the best course of action will always be for the ACP Group and the European Union to work together for the good of our nations and for the good of every global citizen. This commitment and partnership is most recently demonstrated through adoption of the ACP-EU Joint Declaration on Climate Change at the 43rd Session of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers meeting in Lomé, earlier this month.

We have proudly supported and proclaimed the ACP Group’s important role on the world stage on critical global issues such as climate change and oceans governance and will continue to do so in the future. And I want to thank you sincerely for your thoughtful and consistent solidarity.

Excellencies, Fiji was present at the creation of ACP, and has been a committed partner in the ACP’s growth into a living, breathing manifestation of the hopes and ambitions of our very deserving peoples. The ACP will always help chart our collective future, and I pledge Fiji’s full support towards its vision, objectives and activities at all levels.

Thank you all for honouring Fiji with your presence this afternoon, and I wish you well in the upcoming negotiations of the post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement with the EU.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Thank you.