Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Henry Puna has highlighted the Pacific’s important role in the success of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Geneva in 2022, in his address to the Pacific ACP WTO Trade Minister Meeting this week.

He acknowledged the delivery of the Geneva package, including the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, and commended the efforts of the ministers, particularly the leadership of former Fiji Trade Minister Faiyaz Koya.

Puna also praised Fiji for bipartisan support in accepting the MC12 Fisheries Subsidies outcome and the ongoing collaboration for an MC13 outcome.

Highlighting the global uncertainties with the impact of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and disruptions in the Middle East, Puna stressed the importance of collective solidarity among Pacific nations.

He emphasised the significance of the rules-based multilateral trading system of the WTO for small Pacific Members heavily reliant on international trade.

Puna reminded the participants that MC12 adopted the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement, focusing on prohibiting certain subsidies related to fishing practices.

He revealed that 60 members, including three Forum Members, have ratified the agreement. MC12 also mandated further negotiations for a comprehensive agreement, addressing overcapacity and overfishing, with special treatment for developing and least developed countries.

The progress of these negotiations was reviewed during the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers Meeting in October, where common positions were adopted.

Forum Leaders, during their meeting in the Cook Islands in November 2023, praised the leadership of Forum WTO Members and urged ratification of the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement. They also called for advancing negotiations toward delivering the second part of the agreement by MC13.

Looking ahead to MC13 in Abu Dhabi, Puna highlighted issues on the agenda, including agriculture trade reforms, fisheries subsidies, e-commerce, WTO dispute settlement reform, and an Outcomes document.

The Fisheries Subsidies Agreement remained the top priority for Pacific ACP Members, focusing on prohibiting subsidies supporting overcapacity and overfishing.

Puna acknowledged divergences on various issues, emphasising the need for ministers to be prepared to negotiate if differences persist close to MC13.

He proposed collaboration with strategic partners, such as the ACP Group led by Samoa and Forum partners Australia and New Zealand.

Puna also announced that another Pacific ACP Trade Ministers briefing in Abu Dhabi on 24 – 25 February to update ministers on the state of negotiations and expectations for MC13. The Secretariat team and consultants would provide assistance during the ongoing negotiations.