Friday, January 15, 2010

Fiji blames Forum Secretariat for PACER Withdrawal

by Pacnews -15 January 2010

Fiji blames Forum Secretariat for withdrawal from PACER Plus
One of the reasons cited for Fiji’s decision this week to withdraw from what it calls Part Two of PACER negotiations was the ‘failure by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) to perform its responsibilities under Article 17 (2) of the PACER Agreement.

Article 17 (2) lists eight functions of the Forum Secretariat, most of which are administrative and technical in nature to help facilitate the implementation of the regional trade and co-operation framework agreement known as the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER).

“Failure of PIFS to perform its designated responsibilities under Article 17 (2) has frustrated the attempts of Fiji to seek a resolution to its unlawful exclusion from PACER meetings through consultations under Article 15, said an 11-page report prepared by Fiji’s foreign ministry to explain its withdrawal.

The report claimed that Fiji made at least three attempts to convene a meeting of PACER Parties, without any success.

Instead, PIFS deliberately re-organised regional trade meetings to clash with Fiji’s proposed dates for PACER Parties to meet and discuss Fiji’s grievances, the Fiji Government claims.

“The ministry had learnt beforehand from its fellow Pacific ACP partners that PIFS had brought forward the Forum Island Countries Trade Officials Meeting and PACER Plus Working Group to clash with Fiji’s suggested dates of 17 February 2010.

“In addition, PIFS had shifted the venue of February 2010 meetings to Adelaide, creating further difficulties and barriers for Fiji to attend, if any consultations did take place.

According to responses received from PACER Parties – Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga indicated their willingness for technical discussions only at official’s level to be held in January or February 2010.

On 18 December 2009, the Forum Secretariat raised the question of funding for PACER Parties meeting – placing the onus on the Fiji Government to foot costs for its proposed PACER consultations.

“The Fiji Government is of the view that failure to convene a meeting of PACER Parties due to budgetary reasons, especially when PIFS continued to convene other meetings, is a further material breach of Fiji’s rights as State Parties to PACER and against the spirit of PIFS responsibilities under Article 17 of PACER, said the Fiji Government paper.

The Forum Secretariat also raised its concerns with the Fiji Government that proper procedures were not followed regarding communications between Parties.

Fiji, argues that it informed the Suva Secretariat on 29 June of its plans to invoke Article 15 to address its grievances.

“Article 17 imposes obligations on PIFS regarding the circulation of communications, not on the parties to use only the PIFS to communicate, Fiji argued.

“Where that pathway of communications has not proved expeditious, there is nothing to prevent the party from communicating that to other parties.

“Other parties have communicated directly to Fiji, in some cases without copying the Secretariat, said the Fiji Government statement.

A senior regional trade expert told PACNEWS that while Fiji has the legal right to use Article 60 of the Vienna Convention for redress because its grievances have not been appropriately dealt with under Article 15 of PACER, its withdrawal will have no effect on PACER.

“Right now, it is down to legal interpretation. Fiji has it own interpretation and the Forum Secretariat has its own. The Forum, I believe is taking its mandate from the decision of Pacific Leaders in Cairns not to include Fiji in PACER Plus discussions.

“Fiji is not completely shut out but will be updated on PACER Plus talks at officials and ministerial levels after every meetings. The only concern is how Fiji’s position will be communicated back to the negotiations.

“The decision by Fiji to withdraw from PACER Plus, as I see it now, has no bearing on the negotiations soon to get underway because Fiji is already not part of PACER Plus negotiations.

PACNEWS attempted to get a response from the executives of the Forum Secretariat in Suva but was told that both the deputy heads, Peter Forau and Feleti Teo were on leave and the Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade was out of the country.

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