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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pacific nations accuse European Commission over Free Trade Agreement bullying in Vanuatu meeting

Five months before several Pacific countries need to sign a free trade agreement with Europe, a row has flared again between the two parties.

Trade ministers of Pacific members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific states have accused the European Commission of holding them to blackmail, a charge a European diplomat in Vanuatu has rejected.

Radio Australian reporter Samisoni Pareti is covering the trade ministers meeting underway this week in the Vanuatu capital, Port Vila.

Trade ministers are expected to send off a strongly worded letter to the European Commission today, complaining about a communication they received from EU headquarters on the eve of their meeting in Port Vila.

Meeting chair James Bule, Vanuatu's trade minister, says the communication indicated that the EU will cut development aid if island nations do not sign up their economic partnership agreement, EPA by the deadline of December 31st.

Mr Bule says the Pacific nations are unhappy that the EU is still linking EPA negotiations to development aid, known in EU language as EDF 10.

"The feeling of the Forum that we should not link ETF with the EPA they should be two separate things," Mr Bule says.

However the charge d'affaires at the EC office in Vila, Nicholas Martinez, says the link is only apparent in the regional development aid package, not for individual countries.

He admits though he doesn't know whether aid will indeed be reduced if Pacific nations do not sign their EPA by the deadline.

"The regional aid is closely linked to EPA negotiations, does it mean the pacific region may lose money if they sign the EPA? Well I cannot tell you. I really don't know," Mr Bule says

Source: Radio Australia

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