Fellow Forum Trade and Fisheries Ministers,
High Commissioners and Ambassadors,
Deputy Secretary-General, Pacific Islands
Forum Secretariat,
Senior Trade and Fisheries Officials,
Bula Vinaka and good morning to you all.

I am delighted to welcome you back to Fiji and to this Special Forum WTO Trade Ministers Meeting. I see so many familiar faces here in this room today. Last time we met, we were in the “Green Room” - fighting for the Pacific’s interest at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference.

The last 48 hours of the MC12 can never be forgotten. It was a historic moment for us; it showed that when the Pacific region pulled together and focused its energy - the course of the entire negotiations can change.

It has been 5 months since then - yet it feels like it was just yesterday. I recall how Pacific WTO Members were summoned to the WTO Director-General’s office where the DG explained why we should accept the Ministerial “package” as is.

The “package” that was circulated in the morning of 16 June contained a draft Fisheries Subsidies text that did nothing to control the subsidies provided by the large subsidisers and was detrimental to the developmental aspirations of small coastal states. This was the so-called mini or skinny FSA; it failed to achieve the mandates provided by SDG 14.6 and MC11, and it was unbalanced.

Seeing the mini-FSA in the morning of 16 June, the Pacific WTO members quickly concluded that there was nothing else to do but to block the adoption of text by MC12; this was a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t have been.

The Pacific worked with the ACP region to propose a counter text to keep the negotiations alive (and so that the Pacific region was not blamed for the failure of MC12). We had no option but to fight for survival in the negotiations.

Fellow Ministers and Excellencies, Today’s round table meeting with the WTO Director-General will be critical. This is the first time the Pacific is hosting the DG, after her appointment more than a year ago this is the first time that she visited any region grouping.

The Pacific was first. We need to ensure that when we meet the DG, we enter discussions with the same Pacific solidarity and one-voice, which was instrumental in shaping the outcome of fisheries subsidies negotiations.

The D-G quipped in response to our statement about being small and vulnerable - and I quote - “Excellency - you are just small in size – but your voice is loud and clear”. That is the power of solidarity and having a common goal.

Fellow Ministers - we must maintain that same solidarity if we want to have a comprehensive Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. It is our job to ensure that the way forward today will be for the betterment of our region. And most importantly the decision must be for the long-term sustainability of our resources, food security and livelihoods of our people. Ministers, the current Agreement focuses on two disciplines, that is, subsidies to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and subsidies to overfished stocks. It does not limit subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and does not provide special and differential treatment for developing countries.

The MC12 decision mandates the membership to continue negotiation on a comprehensive FSA. This means we have another shot to address the remaining disciplines and make recommendations to MC13.

But before we get there, we have to consider two issues. One is the ratification of the partial agreement and bringing it into force. Second, to prepare for the second wave of negotiations to address overcapacity and overfishing. Fellow Ministers, The Pacific, in particular the Western and Central Pacific, accounts for more than half of the tuna stocks harvested in the world.

Approximately 60% of the stock is harvested from the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Pacific countries. Therefore, if we are to progress negotiations and conclude early, not after 21 years, we need the Forum WTO Members to maintain momentum and the solidarity as at MC12.

The second wave of negotiations on FSA is critical for the Pacific, as overcapacity and overfishing is the most important pillar. There are huge subsidies by distant water fishing nations to build fishing fleets and to support intensive fishing. We need disciplines to curb these subsidies which incentivise overfishing, prevent the development of the Pacific fishing industry, and lower the price of Pacific fish in foreign markets.

At the same time, appropriate and effective special and differential treatment must be provided to developing countries and LDCs. This is particularly important for the economic development of Pacific WTO members, as we are yet to build our fleets and develop our fisheries sector. Adequate policy space for fisheries development is critical.

We are all fully aware of the importance of the fisheries sector, as it supports livelihoods, food security, and social and economic development, and creates jobs and investments.

So our plan is for the long-term and we need multilateral rules to support regional fisheries management efforts and contribute to the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, which our leaders endorsed in July this year.

Fellow Ministers, I will very quickly recap some of the other MC12 decisions that have had impact on the Region. The Pacific Islands rely on trade for basic food and medical supplies.

As net food-importing developing countries (NFIDC), we need WTO rules to clarify the use of export restrictions and ensure that we have access to food supplies when needed.

Related to food security are the reforms of the WTO agriculture rules. These reforms need to reduce distortions in agricultural trade. Colleagues, Similarly, regarding COVID-19 and future pandemic preparedness, trade policy measures, such as export restrictions, should not disrupt access to medical supplies and equipment needed to combat diseases. The importance of these discussions to the FICs is obvious; we do not have domestic production capacity.

In terms of the E-commerce work programme and the reaffirmation of the development issues and small economies work programme, we hope the WTO will address the issues of the FICs and assist us to integrate into global trade.

And finally, the outcome of the trade and environment and WTO reforms. The recognition of trade and environmental issues ensures that work in the WTO contributes to the achievement of SDGs. We look forward to practical solutions to assist developing countries transition into low-carbon economies. Technical assistance, capacity building, and access to finance and technology are critical for us to meet our goals. The WTO must address trade and environment issues. The proliferation of important issues the WTO deals with reinforces the need for the Pacific to be represented in Geneva. Dealing with the many important issues simultaneously in the WTO is a challenge for a small country.

Colleagues, the launch of the work on the WTO reforms is our opportunity to improve the organisation; to improve decision-making; to ensure the voices of the Pacific are heard. The WTO must deliver trade outcomes that support development. The WTO also needs to be responsive to global challenges.

The Dispute Settlement System of WTO is critical. Without such a system, international trade will no longer be based on multilaterally agreed rules. The reform of Dispute Settlement must not simply restore the past system; it must be built back better; it must be inclusive, transparent and usable by the small members. The system must give small island developing states confidence that we can raise our concerns and will be heard.

Fellow Ministers and Excellencies, these are going to be the key issues that will feature in our Roundtable Discussions with the DG. We also have a draft Ministerial Statement for consideration by members, which contains the key messages.

As Chair I look forward to your support in conveying our key positions to the DG at the Roundtable this afternoon.

Vinaka vakalevu.