Interview: Andris Piebalgs
What are the benefits of economic partnership between the EU and Papua New Guinea?
ANDRIS PIEBALGS: PNG is one of the few countries in the Asia-Pacific region that has ratified a free trade agreement with the EU. Ratified in 2009, the i-EPA gives PNG products duty-free and quota-free access to the EU, a market of more than 500m people, and preferential access to a variety of European products covering nearly all trade to PNG markets. Indeed, the EU has become PNG’s second export market, accounting for 9.2% of total exports, and its sixth imports provider, representing 4.9% of PNG’s total imports. While 80% of the country’s overall exports are mineral products, 75% of PNG’s exports to the EU are agricultural products, primarily palm oil, coffee and fish. Mineral products account for less than 7% of PNG’s exports to the EU. This means that the EU is a sustainable trade partner for PNG. In the fisheries sector, for instance, PNG benefits from a unique preferential access to the EU market for canned tuna. EU imports of canned tuna from PNG have increased from €63m in 2009 to €129m in 2012. The fisheries sector has already created 30,000 jobs, and is expected to create 60,000 by 2016.
How would you characterise the significance of the European Commission’s recent warning against illegal fishing in PNG and the Philippines?
PIEBALGS: The Commission’s decision to warn the Philippines and PNG about the risk of being identified as non-cooperating states was taken after a thorough analysis of their national systems for implementing the provisions of the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing regulation. The EU is asking for full cooperation from PNG and the Philippines to ensure the sustainability of fisheries in the Pacific Ocean, which simultaneously leads to sustainability in Europe, given that half of the Western Pacific’s tuna is exported to the EU. The Commission believes that the Philippines and PNG do not currently fulfil their duties as flag, coastal, port or market states according to the provisions of international law. The Commission hopes that the issues can be solved through dialogue. If not, the EU can implement further trade measures.
How are economic challenges in the EU affecting its contribution to development in the Pacific?
PIEBALGS: The EU has provided over €1bn in development assistance to PNG since 1977. Despite the economic crisis, the EU has stepped up its support with a pledge of €184m to PNG between 2014 and 2020, an increase from the €142.3m given from 2008 to 2013. Reforms will be supported through an integrated approach, including investment in human capital, rural economic empowerment, water and sanitation, as well as good governance and trade, to support PNG’s sustainable development. Our focus will be on rural areas, which are home to the majority of the population.
How is the EU helping PNG in its efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?
PIEBALGS: Many key MDGs, including water, sanitation and hygiene, and education, are also integral to the development of PNG-EU cooperation from 2014 to 2020, as agreed with the government. With an estimated 61% of the population lacking access to safe water and 55% without access to improved sanitation, the related MDGs are out of reach.
Under the European Development Fund, the EU has continued to support the PNG government in improving water supply and sanitation in rural areas, having already pledged €25m. The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation project combined provision of water with hygiene awareness trainings and sanitation. In the future, both rural and peri-urban areas will be targeted.
Building on past support to the education sector, to the tune of €39m for the period 2008-13, the EU will help improve access to and the quality of education. The focus will be on technical and vocational education and training, enabling the acquisition of professional skills that are in demand on the labour market.
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