December deadline for PACER PLUS negotiations
Pacific Island countries have been given until December this year to finalise negotiations on the regional trade agreement PACER PLUS.
Pacific Island Countries have been given until December this year to finalise negotiations on the regional trade agreement PACER Plus.
At least four meetings are expected between now and the end of the year for trade officials to thresh out their differences, with the first to be held in Port Vila, Vanuatu in March.
The Chief Trade Adviser for the Pacific Islands Countries Dr Edwini Kessie spoke with Koroi Hawkins about the current progress of the negotiations which began in 2009.
Dr Edwini Kessie: Well I would say we are in the last stage. We have a mandate to try to complete the negotiations by December of this year. So I think we have already concluded negotiations on several chapters. There are still some outstanding issues in a number of areas but we hope to close those chapters as soon as possible.
KOROI HAWKINS: Why has it taken so long? What is it that countries are not able to agree on?
DrEK: Well trade negotiations are not for the faint hearted, you know, they are always long, drawn out. I think in our case there are two particular issues which stand out and these are the negotiations on labour mobility and the negotiations on development assistance. So these are the two key areas where the gaps in the negotiating positions of the parties are quite wide.
KH: There are also the EPA's, (Economic Partnership Agreements) with the European Union and Fiji and Papua New Guinea sort of going out on a limb and doing there own thing. Where does that fit into all of this?
DrEK: Well PACER Plus is quite a comprehensive agreement, in the sense that it covers not only trade in goods, but trade in services as well as investment. Whereas for now, the EPA only covers trade in goods, but not services nor investment. So from that perspective PACER plus is, has a much broader scope. And as well, one thing that we also have to bear in mind is that, there is also real trade between the Pacific Island countries and Australia and New Zealand. Whereas there isn't a lot of trade between the Pacific Islands Countries and the European Union, obviously because of the geographical distance between the two. But certainly PACER plus is quite different if you take into account the impact it would have on Pacific economies.
KH: For the region what are the benefits of having an agreement like this? Taking into consideration that some countries are larger than others and have more to trade than others.
DrEK: Well I think the key is not the size, but you know having goods and services which are competitive and obviously even smaller countries can certainly also do that. I think there would be a number of benefits in terms of helping the countries to improve there overall competitiveness. Helping the countries to attract investment and also, as I said we are negotiating many agreements and each of the agreements would confer potential benefits on the Pacific Islands Countries. For example, we are looking at quarantine issues, so the agreement on quarantine, SBS what we call the SBS agreement, that should help the Pacific Islands countries to export more of their products to Australia and New Zealand. So they are going to benefit in a number of areas and one area where most of the benefits will be, will be in the area of labour mobility, which is seen as a low hanging fruit by many of the Pacific Islands Countries. They want to be able to send more people to Australia and New Zealand to work on farms, for temporary periods and then they will come back to their countries, but this is an area of great importance to the Pacific Island countries.
KH: Is there a perception that some will benefit more than others amongst the countries?
DrEK: Well I think there is that perception that, it depends, we are trying to have a balanced agreement, so that all the parties would benefit but it is only natural that some countries i.e. the countries which are really prepared, they are the ones which are more likely to benefit. But what we are aiming for is a balanced agreement which would give opportunities to all the 16 participating countries.
KH: What's in it for Australia and New Zealand? Are they just being the helpful big brothers or do they actually get, set are they set to gain from this agreement?
DrEK: Well I think for Australia and New Zealand it's not so much the commercial interest. But I think they would like to see a prosperous Pacific. And I think that is what is driving them as far as PACER plus is concerned. In terms of the commercial interest, they may have commercial interest in PACER plus but it's very, very small. But I think above all, they would like to see a prosperous Pacific region which they are part of and I think that is what is driving them as far as PACER plus is concerned.
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