SI pursues European Union support


IN a bid to boost cocoa exports and strengthen its cocoa sector, the Solomon Islands is actively developing a proposal for targeted support from the European Union.

This was confirmed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Jeremiah Manele, during his presentation at the 19th Regional Meeting (Pacific Region) of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in the Solomon Islands Parliament yesterday.

Minister Manele addressed the assembly on the topic ‘State of play of the negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement for the Pacific region,’ shedding light on the significant steps taken to enhance the country’s cocoa industry.

One of the pivotal developments is the engagement of Cathliro Commodities Development to facilitate cooperation with French distributors in Europe.

French distributors have expressed a keen interest in collaborating with Solomon Islands cocoa exporters to improve the flavor and marketing of Solomon Islands cocoa, particularly targeting boutique markets in France.

The European Union has granted a generous 30% duty-free and quota-free access to all imports from the Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) countries.

Importantly, this access to the European Union market is permanent, full, and free for all products, providing a favorable trade environment for Pacific nations.

Minister Manele also highlighted improvements in the interim EPA rules of origin, particularly in the fish and fisheries products sector.

Under the “global sourcing rule,” fish and fish products are deemed originating, regardless of where the fish is caught or the flag under which the vessels are registered, as long as they are transformed from fresh or frozen into pre-cooked, packaged, or processed products.

This rule aims to promote local jobs, skills transfer, and income by developing an onshore processing capacity while ensuring the long-term sustainability of fish stocks.

Despite these advances, the interim EPA does not address trade in services or investment.

Minister Manele indicated that Solomon Islands and the interim EPA parties are in the process of assessing their preparedness for including trading services and investment facilitation chapters.

Dr. Jane Pearson Kelsey, a consultant commissioned by the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, conducted consultations in Solomon Islands from October 9 to 13, 2023, using funding from the 11th European Development Fund (EDF).

While the initial focus is on implementing the trade in goods component and enhancing development cooperation in targeted sectors, there is growing interest in exploring potential opportunities in trade and services.

This includes the possibility of agreements for skilled workers, such as nurses and caregivers, to temporarily work in EU countries.

The demand for caregivers and qualified nurses in certain EU member states is on the rise, and the current supply may not be sufficient to meet this growing demand.

Minister Manele acknowledged that the implementation progress of the interim EPA has been slow since its ratification by the Pacific African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) parties. However, he emphasized that the expected benefits will only be realized when parties systematically implement the agreement.

Solomon Islands formally acceded to the interim EPA on May 17, 2020. Meanwhile, Tonga, Timor Leste, and Vanuatu have expressed their intention to accede but are still undergoing internal review and procedural requirements. Papua New Guinea ratified the Pacific interim EPA in May 2011, following the European Parliament’s ratification in the same year.

Fiji signed the agreement in July 2014, and Samoa acceded to the interim EPA in December 2018.

An Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is a trade agreement established between the European Union (EU) and a group of countries in a specific region, typically former colonies or territories with historical trade ties to EU member states. These agreements are part of the broader framework of Economic Partnership Agreements, which are trade agreements between the EU and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) regions.

Interim EPAs are designed to provide a framework for trade and economic cooperation while negotiations for comprehensive EPAs are still ongoing. Comprehensive EPAs are intended to replace preferential trade agreements that the ACP countries previously had with the EU under the Cotonou Agreement.

The 19th Regional Meeting (Pacific Region) of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly continues, with further discussions scheduled for today and concluding tomorrow.

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