'Significant progress' made at PACER-Plus talks
The Chief Trade Advisor of the Pacific Island Countries says significant progress was made on development assistance negotiations in this round of PACER-Plus talks.
The Chief Trade Advisor of the Pacific Island Forum countries says significant progress was made on development assistance negotiations in this round of PACER-Plus talks.
Representatives from Australia, New Zealand and 14 Pacific nations have been in Port Vila in Vanuatu this week to discuss the regional free trade agreement.
Edwini Kessie told Mary Baines that for the first time, New Zealand and Australia committed to provide funds to help Pacific Island countries to address supply side constraints.
EDWINI KESSIE: It went fairly well. We managed to conclude negotiations on the institutional framework, and we made significant progress on development assistance, which is a key subject of interest to the Pacific Island countries. So I think overall we managed to make some good progress.
MARY BAINES: Can you give me any more information about what was decided with development assistance?
EK: Well, with development assistance, Australia and New Zealand have committed to providing a certain sum of money to help the Pacific Island countries to address supply side constraints which basically have prevented them from taking advantage of market access opportunities. Although they did not mention the figure, this is the first time, this is the first time that the two countries have agreed that a specific sum of money would be set aside to help the Pacific Island countries to address supply side constraints. So that was quite positive.
MB: What else was on the table?
EK: Well for labour mobility, we managed to make modest progress. So that is one area that we didn't get the result that we expected but it's still work in progress. So we hope that at the next meeting we would be able to bridge the gaps in the negotiating positions of the parties. The Pacific Island countries would like Australia in particular to increase the number, because currently New Zealand has 9,000 places, where as Australia about 4,500. So we want Australia to increase the number, and also for Australia and New Zealand, both countries, to extend their schemes to other areas of interest to Pacific Island countries, such as age care and for sea faring as well. So there are some sectors, broadly we have two main objectives - increasing the number and the extension of the schemes to other sectors of interest to the Pacific Island countries.
MB: But nothing firm was put in place on that this time around?
EK: Indeed, nothing firm.
MB: So a reluctance by Australia and New Zealand to make an agreement on that?
EK: They say they are going through their domestic processes, and they will let us know what can be done at the next meeting. So we are hoping they will be able to move on those issues.
MB: What else came out of the talks?
EK: We also managed to make good progress on investment, investment was also a key issue, we managed to make progress on investment as well.
MB: In what ways?
EK: Basically, it's a little bit technical. We were bogged down with the definition of an investment. We managed to come to some sort of compromise on what the definition of investment would be, and then the method to schedule commitments. So we managed to make some significant progress. The negotiations are not yet concluded yet on investment, however I think we can see light at the end of the tunnel.
MB: There's talk that all of this might be wrapped up by the end of this year.
EK: I don't think so. I think what we mean by the end of this year, the deadline for the end of this year, is to finish the negotiations on the legal text. And then we will then work on the schedules of commitments and concessions of countries. So by the end of this year, hopefully we would have finished all the negotiations on the legal texts, and will turn our attention to the schedules. I think hopefully we should finish everything by the end of next year, hopefully, everything.
Dr Kessie says the next round of negotiations are likely to be in Melbourne in early August.
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