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Minister Clarifies Fiji’s Stance on PACER Plus Once and For All

The following is the ministerial statement by the Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, and Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources Faiyaz Koya in Parliament on April 26, 2017. Thank
27 Apr 2017 14:25
Minister Clarifies Fiji’s Stance on PACER Plus Once and For All
Minister for Trade and Tourism Faiyaz Koya. Photo:Ronald Kumar

The following is the ministerial statement by the Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, and Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources Faiyaz Koya in Parliament on April 26, 2017.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to deliver my Ministerial statement.

I wish to cover in this statement key issues that have been either misconstrued or sensationalised in the media.

Madam Speaker,

One key issue that the media and certain members in this august house continue to be misinformed about, and misinform others, is the PACER Plus.

PACER-Plus

I wish to inform this august house that Fiji has never opted out or disengaged in PACER Plus negotiations, since we came to the table. On the contrary, our engagement and tactful negotiations has made the current agreement more development friendly. Issues such as “infant industry development” were not part of the original deal but were included only when Fiji put it on the table.

Madam Speaker,

It was reported that the PACER Plus legal text was concluded in Brisbane, last week, without Fiji’s presence. We do not consider this to be an end game for negotiations. The Agreement is not signed. We will continue to negotiate and demand our rights until we are satisfied that PACER Plus is in our interest and does not constrain our potential for development.

We were not able to attend the meeting, as the notice came very late and it clashed with some equally important national and international assignments that were confirmed way back.

However, Madam Speaker,

I officially wrote to my counterparts in Australia and New Zealand and the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA) requesting for the deferment of the Brisbane meeting to accord us time to be able to attend. I also highlighted what Fiji needed changes in PACER Plus to make the deal more fair to the Pacific Island Countries. These related to two issues, primarily, “Infant Industry Development” provisions and “Third Party Most Favored Nation (MFN)” provisions.

Madam Speaker,

Going forward, Fiji will take every opportunity to be engaged in the process and push our concerns, even after the deal is signed. There should not be any misconceptions out there as to what our position is and what it will take for Fiji to commit to PACER Plus .

In this regard, the Hon. Prime Minister, who will be meeting Australian Prime Minister Turnbull on COP23 issues next week and will also clearly lay our position on PACER Plus on the table, once again.

The Hon. Prime Minister will articulate what it will take for Fiji to commit to PACER Plus. I repeat, Madam Speaker, we do not want an agreement that does more harm than good.

Madam Speaker,

Fiji will work towards clarifying the issues of concern to us, particularly, the very constraining Third Party Most Favored Nation (MFN) clause and a very ineffective Infant Industry clause and jointly come up with an innovative approach.

Madam Speaker,

We believe the current versions of these two provisions could be disastrous to Fiji in terms of growth of our industries and our approach to forge favourable partnership with our key trading partners, besides Australia and New Zealand.

As Fijians, we still believe Australia and New Zealand are trying to understand our position and this was demonstrated last year when we managed to reach consensus in a number of areas.

Madam Speaker,

It has been stated that come June 2017, PACER Plus is expected to be signed by those countries that have agreed to it. Madam Speaker, this date does not matter to us, what matters is a fair deal for the Pacific and Fiji. We will continue to push for this, even after the Agreement is signed, as (like I said) before we as a country commit to PACER Plus and sign the deal.

Madam Speaker,

I hope that this will put to rest any issues that maybe with regards to PACER Plus and any misconception about Fiji’s participation.

Fiji-PNG Bilateral Trade

Another issue that keeps coming up in this august house is Fiji-PNG bilateral trade.  I had in the last session updated Parliament that the issue of market access for PNG products had been cleared.

Madam Speaker,

Furthermore for the information of the other side of the house Fiji and PNG Senior Trade and Foreign Affairs officials met in Port Moresby last week. This is part of a formal structure that we have in place where the senior officials discuss trade and economic issues to enhance the bilateral relations.

Madam Speaker,

The meeting was very successful and the officials are working together to address trade, investment and related issues that can ensure that the bilateral economic relations are enhanced.

Madam Speaker,

Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the Fijian Government is not working with its key trading partners.

Madam Speaker,

The opposition also fails to understand that climate change is critically important for the growth and development of a nation. Protection of the natural resources and the environment is intricately linked with trade and investment.

Therefore, Madam Speaker the current role of Fiji, as the COP23 President is critical to highlight to the rest of the world, especially the developed nations that they need to take corrective action to ensure our survival.  COP23 and the fight against climate change is our investment in the future.   

Hence, Madam Speaker, we request the other side of the house not to be ignorant of the fact that climate change is real and if we are to survive as a nation and continue providing for our people, leading this charge from the front is critical.

Vatukoula Gold Mine

Moving from trade to another critical matter of the Vatukoula Gold Mine.

Madam Speaker,

It was brought to my attention that the safety of workers at the mines was being compromised, as workers have been seriously injured. This led to an issuance of Stop Work Order.

Madam Speaker,

This has been the first time since the mine opened 75 years ago that it has been issued with a Stop Work Order.

Since the notice, the Department of Mineral Resources is working with Vatukoula Gold Mine to review the work area re-entry procedure and mine plan is reviewed with monitoring and reporting systems, including refresher training on safety and First Aid certification.

Madam Speaker,

The Re-entry procedure (before a safety audit) is mandatory immediately after shutdown due to changing conditions underground when no work is being undertaken. A team has been sent underground preceding the safety audit to check on the safety for re-entry with checks on ventilation; slopes and height of rock faces and supporting props and pillars for roofs and walls of work areas.

Madam Speaker,

This procedure is to ensure that the underground work areas is well ventilated for the safety of the worker. Furthermore, checks are being done on the integrity of slopes and height of rock faces, which need to have well supported roofs, to avoid rock falls and collapse of drive walls.

Madam Speaker,

Once the technical officials at the Mineral Resources Department are satisfied that the underground mines are complying with all safety requirements and that no miner’s health and life is at risk the re-entry is authorized to take place.

Madam Speaker,

Any area that is deemed unsafe working areas will be closed off until the company completes all rehabilitation processes and the re-entry plans are ready and safe to be executed.

Madam Speaker,

Re-entry will only be issued if the plans are examined, verified and approved by the Mineral Resources Department. The decision will be based on the efficiency of ventilation, competent rock mass designation and detail geological characteristics of such long wall panels.

Madam Speaker,

As I stated earlier, the safety of the workers is most important, therefore, the timeline for the completion of this audit needs to be thoroughly planned. The entire process will be strictly monitored by the Inspectors of Mineral Resources Department to ensure all procedures and processes are completed in the required manner.

Madam Speaker,

The Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources officials are working round-the-clock to ensure that the safety issues identified in the Stop Work Order are addressed.

Madam Speaker,

The Vatukoula Gold Mine Limited Management are fully aware of the procedures that are currently being undertaken. They have been advised by the technical officials of the safety audit plan including mandatory compliance to all conditions for improvement established by the Mineral Resource Department team.

Madam Speaker,

Whilst the procedures are being undertaken, the Vatukoula Gold Mine Limited has given a commitment that they will continue paying salary during the period of stop work. The company has paid compensation for fatalities and also has subsidised the health insurance cover for workers.

Environmental protection issues

Moving on to concerns raised on river gravel extraction at a site in the West.

I would like to inform the house that the Stop Work Order is still in force and no license for extraction has been issued.

The environmental impacts assessment from the gravel extraction activities by the Environment Division of the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources recommends that a period of replenishment needs to be given for the natural riverine ecosystem to recover.

Madam Speaker,

I would like to assure this house that the Ministry is doing its best to monitor and inspect extractive activities that falls under its jurisdiction.

Deep sea mining licenses

There have recently been allegations made in the media of deep sea mining licenses being issued to some companies in Fiji.

Madam Speaker,

I would like to inform this august house that there has not been any deep sea mining license issued.

Madam Speaker,

A proper approval process that needs to be followed by any applicant and it has to be shown by the company that it has done adequate exploratory studies to identify and assess the resource.

The exploration approval process itself undergoes vigilant scrutiny to be able to prove that the company is able financially, technically and the resource is feasible to be sustainably extracted.

Extensive consultations with all stakeholders, especially the qoliqoli owners and a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment would need to be completed by the applicants.

Therefore, Madam Speaker, a license for deep sea mining cannot be issued privately without the public, especially the qoliqoli owners knowing.

Hence, we request the media to adhere to responsible and truthful reporting rather than making speculations.

Madam Speaker,

I wish to thank you for allowing me to take the floor to address some pertinent issues that are being misconstrued and sensationalised in the media and also by certain individuals.

Each person has a responsibility to ensure that the information that they circulate is supported by facts and facts only – speculations only react confusion and uncertainty.

Madam Speaker, thank you again for this opportunity.

Vinaka vakalevu.

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