BY GEORGINA KEKEA
THE Solomon Islands Government is currently undertaking a very important initiative to enter into an agreement with the European Union (EU) on the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA).
On Tuesday a workshop on iEPA brought together different stakeholders within government and private sector who had been engaged in this consultative process since 2017.
Speaking to Island Sun, Supervising Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MFAET), Joseph Ma’ahanua says iEPA stems from the Cotonou agreement.
Cotonou agreement is a treaty between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP countries) and it is the most comprehensive partnership agreement between countries and the EU.
Mr Ma’ahanua says as a branch of the Cotonou agreement, the iEPA will enable Solomon Islands to retain preferential market access to the EU market, on a reciprocal basis.
”We have to go through the reciprocal trading arrangements so that it will be compatible with the World Trade Organisation (WTO),” he says.
Ma’ahanua explained that by being a member of WTO, Solomon Islands had been able to benefit from the trading systems under the WTO mechanisms including having an equal voice with the developed countries that are the big economies of the world.
WTO is the intergovernmental organisation that regulates international trade.
He says the way the iEPA is structured, goes hand in hand with the multilateral trading system.
He says for so long, Solomon Islands had been enjoying the benefits of a Least Developed Country (LDC).
He says now under this initiative of iEPA, Solomon Islands will have to go through a reciprocal trading system with other countries.
He says by signing up to iEPA Solomon Islands will be able to identify its needs and by identifying these needs, will be able to get assistance from different avenues in the trade agreements.
“When we sign onto the agreement and we take on board the obligation that comes with it, the flexibility will be slightly different. In our case, we are still considered a Least Develop Country (LDC) but within three years we will graduate to a Developing Country and things will be different.”
He says the work done now will be able to assist Solomon Islands transit into the next phase without much mishap.
Ma’ahanua says the EU market is critical to Solomon Islands exports and there are wider considerations at play for Solomon Islands in its decision to accede to the iEPA.
“Such as revenue implications, there are certainly benefits to be accrued through economic integration with more flexible global sourcing rules of origin for fisheries, a predictable and transparent trading environment for private sector, reduced barriers to trade through the preferential market access and the potential to contribute to employment generation and economic growth.”
He says the workshop yesterday was to review the work carried out by consultant firm A-Z since February 8, 2018.
“And receive a summary of the work executed including legal compliance framework, implementation gaps and proposed projects, summary of fiscal considerations and private sector market opportunities.”
Ma’ahanua told Island Sun that the sooner we prepare ourselves the better it would be rather than entering the agreement without preparing ourselves.
He says for trade agreements it is better that a country enter a negotiated framework first. He says there will be stiff conditions and it is not advisable for Solomon Islands to enter the agreement without the negotiation framework.
He says iEPA is a positive step forward for Solomon Islands and will greatly benefit Solomon Islanders in the future.