The Pacific bloc of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group is meeting European Union officials in Brussels this week to try and progress negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement.
Last month, Pacific trade officials resolved to keep pushing for a conclusion in the prolonged negotiations by the end of this year.
Johnny Blades asked Vanuatu's Director of External Trade, Sumbue Antas, for an update on the process.
SUMBUE ANTAS: Well, it has been going on, as everybody knows, for so long. As you already know, in the last ministerial meetings that were held only about three weeks ago, the ministers decided that we need to keep pushing things forward. There were some issues they decided were going to be red-lines. So those of us officials we have to try and see if we can negotiate ourselves, see if we can get ourselves into a situation where we can have some sort of agreement before ministers meet maybe later in the year. But there's definitely some red-lines that we have...
JOHNNY BLADES: What are those red-line issues? Can you explain briefly?
SA: There are a number of them, but at least for Vanuatu, regarding infant industry support. The EU, broadly speaking, is saying that infant industry support should be limited to a very limited timeframe, and we are requesting a longer timeframe to support the domestic industries. There are a number of issues for Vanuatu, maybe I should mention two or three. The other one would be in relation to our tax information system. There is a big demand to ensure the tax provisions between the trade agreement. And we are saying, in Vanuatu, that we recognise we have tax issues in Vanuatu, but those issues are not part of a trade agreement. Those issues are managed in the OECD process, and, therefore, you should not try and bring tax issues into a trade agreement. Another issue that we're also being mindful of is what we call a stand-still provision. A 'stand-still' means that if we are negotiating an MFN provision saying you are demanding MFN treatment, which means that at the moment we are negotiating with Australia and New Zealand. So even if we negotiate anything with the European Union or EPA, if we would like to have special treatment with another place than Australia, the EU wants to have the same treatment. I'm just saying we won't allow that.
JB: What's so important about the EPAs? Are they going to be beneficial?
SA: Well, they will be beneficial because the Pacific countries have fisheries issues. Fisheries is very important to some of my colleagues in the Pacific. That, in Vanuatu's view, is the most important issue for the whole Pacific. You have countries who have no other resource but fish. So as a country like Vanuatu we have to be mindful of that. We have to ensure what we can get from the EU on the fisheries side must be good for our region.