EU says aid to Fiji will resume after next year's polls
An EU official, in Fiji for a sugar conference, says the EU will not resume its aid programme until after the promised elections next year have taken place.
The European Union has again ruled out resuming its bilateral aid programme with Fiji until after the elections promised by the regime for next September.
Aid to mainly the sugar sector was suspended in 2007 after the military coup by the current regime leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
Fiji has been seeking renewed EU assistance, although the Cotonou Agreement precludes that EU assistance be given to countries that have ceased to be democracies.
The European Commission's Deputy Director General for Development Co-operation, Marcus Cornaro, has met Commodore Bainimarama in Fiji and says the terms for a full re-engagement still apply. He spoke to Don Wiseman.
MARCUS CORNARO: It is something that we would be happy [with] if we could modify, but we would modify that only, as I managed to explain to the prime minister, if it was contingent on them carrying through as promised to democratic elections and the full return to democratic rule.
DON WISEMAN: You clearly welcomed the progress that's been made. Did the EU, at any point, consider that perhaps now is the time to lift that restriction?
MC: No, that would be too early. Now that the constitution is in place we are, of course, welcoming the prospect of the elections and this would allow the full return of democracy. But it's certainly premature before we can see how these elections are being run and analyse the results to actually move towards a resumption of... to move to a full normalisation of development assistance, including the resumption of bilateral aid. But this being said, we also believe that there is a moment to prepare for that certainty, and preparing for that for two reasons - a) we do believe that this gives additional encouragement to that process and secondly, also, knowing the lead time, how the usual programming works, it's certainly of value to have ideas and agree parameters and objectives ready once hopefully by the fall next year we'll be there to do so.
DW: So in terms of deciding whether or not this process is free and fair, do you have specific markers at this point?
MC: What we do is we provide, together with a few other international partners, assistance in the preparation of the electoral process. The question is open and this I discussed also with the prime minister as to who and how this would be internationally observed. I was encouraged that he actually said he was determined to have this internationally observed, although he was not specific on where this could be coming from. But I thought this was a fair point and premature. It's only then in the run-up before the detail of the electoral law and the set-up of the electoral observations where you would look into what you are alluding to, namely the detailed parameters of free and fair elections. There's a good international rule book on what would be a minimum requirement for that to do so.
DW: The EU contributed to the constitution that got thrown out. Do you have plans to make contribution for this process over the next 11 months?
MC: We have plans, in fact, to help them in the run-up to the election, to give advice on how this can be done. Starting with two international experts, two European experts arriving in the country here next week and then working with the various bodies preparing for that, and then secondly working very closely with other international observers, notably New Zealand, Australia and those countries very clearly monitoring the process, and thirdly also, remaining prepared when other needs come up in the run-up to support that process.
DW: If we can just come back to sugar, since I guess that's one of the main reasons you're there. And one of the points that was made by Commodore Bainimarama was what he saw as the lack of progress on the EPAs, the additional non-trade elements that are being brought into it, and, coupled with that, the prospect of the removal of guaranteed markets, I think, by 2017, and they want that pushed out to 2020. They seem to feel that the EU is not doing what it could to protect this fragile industry in these developing countries.
MC: That's something I had an opportunity to comment on in the conference. I think we have struck a very good balance, to be honest, in redressing some of the shortcomings in the industry, which affect the way we do business in Europe, but also, of course, how our partners from the ACP interact with us. And then it's any figures which show that both the quota system and the price fixing has been enormously distortive and leading to uncompetitive and unusefully bureaucratic processes for no long-term benefits for the industry on either side. And we have had indications of that. Take Fiji, for instance. This is a sugar industry which can remain viable, but provided they diversify and become more competitive, they would not only look at producing sugar out of cane, but many of the other by-products, and co-operate with us and others on more innovation and research. So, yes, our new regime will force the industry both in Europe and abroad to look more vigorously on how best to become more competitive. But the industry as such and I think also our trading regime will remain positive and also to the benefit of a country like Fiji. There's no longer fixing of prices. This is something where Fiji would have preferential access to our market.
DW: Preferential access, but the prices would be at the world rate?
MC: Preference is a question of duty-free or reduced duty into the market and this is linked to the EPAs. But there's no reason why this cannot be sorted out with Fiji. A different story is the quotas and the price fixing, and what we're doing away with is the quotas and artificial price ceilings, having realised that this is ineffective in our trade regimes.
DW: Now, the money that the EU has withheld, the development money going back to 2007, when Fiji comes back into the fold, will all of that money be paid to them or just what's due in that particular year?
MC: We operate in seven-year frameworks, so in the funding they were not able to draw on what, in our jargon, is called the 10th EDF, which is the last cycle. This is something they will not be able to benefit from in 2014. But what we're looking at, and this is also what my preparatory mission here is all about, to prepare them well for drawing from fresh funding coming in under what we call the 11th EDF framework, which is the framework from 2014 to 2020. But we are not rolling over unused commitments from the previous period.
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