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View the documentEEC - Pacific Ministers meet for the third time
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View the documentRuzizi II - a fine example of regional cooperation

EEC - Pacific Ministers meet for the third time

At the end oJ March, Suva (Fiji) hosted a ministerial meeting on regional cooperation in the Pacific. Berenado Vunibobo, the F4ian Trade Minister, and Philippe Soubestre, the Deputy Director - Generalior Development at the Commission of the European Communities, chaired the session, which brought together representatives of the eig/’t Pacific ACPs, a Commission delegation including Aslam Aziz, who heuds the Pacific diPision, and the leuders of various regional institutions, inclading Henri Naisali, the Secretary - General oJ the South Pacific Forum, whose organisation coordinates regional cooperation.

The ACP - EEC joint ministerial meeting on regional cooperation, an annnal event, was first held in Apia (Western Samoa) in April 1988, under the co - chairmanship of the late Loreuzo Natali, the then Commission Vice - President. The second meeting took place in Suva, as did the most recent (on 31 March), which involved a detailed, project - by - project examination of regional cooperation under LomII and guidelines for LomV and was preceded by two weeks of non - stop contacts during which the participants were able to clear a good deal of ground.

Thrce ministers from three Pacific countries had pleaded their regionts case at length at the ACP - EEC Joint Assembly in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea (sce Courier No 121, page I). Manuel Marin, the Commission Vice - President responsible for Development and FisLeries, also took stock of EEC - Pacific cooperation on this occasion and he discussed all the regional cooperation implementation problems with this hosts in PNG and, later on, with Fijian leaders and Pacific ministers in Suva. Even the Prime Ministers of PNG Rabbie Namaliu - and Fiji - Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara - joined in the discussions.

Many rensons for satisfaction...

Many positions were taken up, sta - , tements made and discussions held, but the main theme was the unanimous welcoming of the increasingly important part played by regional cooperation in successive Conventions and the concomitant increase in the money allocated to it. Regional credits had risen from ECU 10.3 million under Lom to ECU 30.4 m under LomI and ECU 39 m under LomII, and the upward trend will probably be maintained under LomV, although the exact figure was not known at the time of the meeting.

The partners also welcomed the fact that the field of application of regional cooperation had been extended - LomV had clarified the notion of regionality once and for all, Mr Vunibobo was pleased to say, which, he felt, would avoid any problems in the future. They also realised that the priorities which had been established here were at the heart of their development drive. Regional projects, whether to do with telecommunications, trade promotion, agriculture, exploitation of marine resources, tourism or air and sea transport, were only run in vital areas of the Pacific economies.

...and complaints

But not all regional cooperation is quite so rosy, far from it, for these same countries deplored the time it takes to get projects implemented. One illustration of this was SOPAC, the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, which, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara said, had been granted ECU 5 m from the Pacific ACPs’ regional indicative programme in early 1986, but had to wait until March 1989 for the financing proposal to be signed and March 1990 for the first expenditure to be approved. “ And in the meantime there was a new Convension “, he added.

Whose fault is this? Manuel Marin repeatedly told the Joint Assembly and the Council of Ministers that the responsibility was shared and that the delays had as much to do with the ACP authorities as with Commission procedures. Philippe Soubestre confirmed this at the special EEC - Pacific moeting and a look at the SOPAC project implementation process did indeed show that, although the Commission took six months to approve the financing proposal at the end of it, the leaders of SPEC (as the Pacific Forum used to be called) took nine months to come up with additional information requested at the beginning,

Complex procedures

Another complaint about red tape was what the Pacific countries call the “ complexity of project formulation and implementation procedures”, which make excessive demands on the limitod administrative facilities of the islands. The Community has already recognised that this is a problem, because it has been financing an ACP - EEC unit in the Pacific Forum to coordinate the formulation and implementation of the regional programme since 1988 and has agreed to expand this.

Lastly, when projects call for importod equipment, the distance from Europe makes it more expensive - another complaint - than it would be if it were bought in the region itself, the cost to the project budget being pushed up accordingly. But a solution may be in sight, as, at the Joint Assembly in Port Moresby, Manuel Marin said they might envisage removing the ties on EEC aid in some regional projects.

For all these reasons, the rate of payment of the Pacific regional programme under LomII is, at 8 %, very poor, although the 70% rate of commitment looks good.

Keeping the same plorities

Things may be different under the new Convention, with the implementation of regional cooperation now boing well organised under the aegis of the Pacific Forum, with an experienced ACP - EEC unit and an annnal Conference of Ministers as a vital driving force. And there is no need for new priorities, since what is vital is to carry on with the LomII schemes. As Ratu Mara made clear: “For the Pacific ACP countries, the development of trade and tourism, transport and communications, and natural resources remain of the utmost importance. A sustained effort in the same areas over a lengthy period of time is bound to be more effective in terms of development than changing priorities every few years” - particularly if the programmes fit in harmoniously with the different national strategies.

Complementarity

Philippe Soubestre insistod that the regional projects and national indicative programmes should complement each other. This, he felt, was the only way of making the best of results and promoting dynamic, integrated development. The tourist sector, one of the principal bases of the Pacific economies, was an telling example of how vital links between regional and national affairs were. While the regional tourist programme (already in phase two) was going well, the development of the national tourist offices and the promotion campaigns in the individual countries were less of a success. “ Is is clear”, he said, “that the efforts to promote the South Pacific as a tourism destination can only take off now if these national programmes are developed rapidly and that if they are not, then even the regional programme cannot succeed “.

The experience of OCTs

Lastly, the Pacific countries will be able to benefit from the experience of their neighbours in the Overscas Countries and Territories (of one of the Member States of the EEC), with which cooperation will now be better, as, for the first time, LomV provides (in the body of the text) for the possibility of promoting regional projects involving ACPs and OCTs. And, undeniably, in tourism - Tahiti is a well - known attraction - and fishing and photo - voltaic energy, the OCTs know what they are doing.

The next mocting of the ACP National Authorising Officers in Brussels will no doubt provide an opportunity to continue some of the discussions begun at this third EECPacific ministerial meeting in Suva. And then the next big occasion for those concerned by regional cooperation in the Pacific will be the 7th EDF programming session to be held before the end of 1990. A.T.