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01 Jan 2002 00:00
An African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) summit on trade and aid was on Friday set to venture into stormy political waters by strongly condemning nuclear waste shipments across the Pacific, conference delegates told AFP.
The 78-nation summit is primarily meant to discuss trade and aid ties with the European Union (EU) and until now has steered away from political issues.
Delegates were also confronting a more immediate problem on Friday: widening trade union action by Fijian aviation workers was causing flight cancellations for the national carrier Air Pacific.
EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy bailed out of the conference to catch a rival carrier out of the country.
“I am very disappointed because I had wanted to meet Fiji sugar officials,” he said as he left.
Flights out of the Fiji Islands have been disrupted with delays of as long as 24 hours after 80% of workers who belong to a union currently in talks with the national carrier, Air Pacific, reported sick on Friday.
“We cannot believe that 80% of workers could all report sick, this is a calculated move by (Fiji Aviation Workers Association (Fawa) national secretary) Attar Singh and it is very disappointing,” Labour Minister Kenneth Zinck told AFP.
“It has tainted the on-going negotiations, the union now seem to prefer to negotiate in bad faith but we remain hopeful.”
Fawa has been trying to negotiate a settlement of several issues with the airline for the last four years. The union grievances include non-payment of an appropriate redundancy package for staff who had to go home after the airline closed two offices in Suva in 1998.
Rostering, bidding, productivity pay and triple rate for cabin crews are also on the Fawa agenda.
Four years of attempts to get a settlement were rewarded in February when arbitration recognised the dispute.
Meanwhile the summit was close to resolving its wording condemning nuclear shipments.
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd is shipping low level radioactive waste from Japan to Britain on two ships, currently believed to be in the exclusive economic zone of Vanuatu, west of here.
The shipments, part of regular traffic between Britain and France and Japan, have for the last several years outraged Pacific nations who fear they are an environmental and security risk.
On Thursday Fiji’s Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase spoke out strongly at the first formal session on the issue.
“As I speak, a ship carrying plutonium is heading for our waters,” Qarase said.
“We will be asking you to join with us in expressing our outrage and opposition to those who are so willing to put the Pacific and our peoples at risk.”
A delegate told AFP that the issue was raised in working
sessions earlier on Friday.
“The Pacific island delegates were unhappy with the tone of the chapter on the shipments, they wanted it to be more specific,” a delegate said.
After support was received from other Pacific nations and the Caribbean members, the issue was sent back to a special drafting committee chaired by Fijian Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola.
A head of government in the summit said it was a delicate issue with African nations unwilling to condemn the EU.
“But we told them that this is an issue which affects everybody, and they (the nuclear powers) will take their wastes through their waters some day,” the leader said.
A diplomatic source was critical of the way in which Pacific nations were pressing for the strong statement.
“It is holding everything up,” the source said.
Key EU nations are engaged in the nuclear waste trade and are pressing the ACP not to venture into the political arena.
The summit is expected to produce the “Nadi Declaration” defining the way in which the grouping of the world’s poorest nations go into five years of negotiations over trade and preferential access agreements. - Sapa-AFP
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