NGO warns about Pacific free trade push
Anti-globalisation campaigner says Pacific Trade Ministers must not commit to deals that hinder their exporters.
As Pacific Trade Ministers meet in Kiribati, the Pacific Network on Globalisation, or PANG, is calling on them to learn from their mistakes in previous negotiations and avoid binding commitments that will not support exporters.
This week's meeting is focussed on the economic opportunities of trade promotion and facilitation reforms, particularly the World Trade Organisation's agreement on Trade Facilitation announced in Bali last year.
But PANG's Adam Wolfenden says that deal should more accurately be called an import facilitation agreement as that is what the real outcome will be for the Pacific.
He says it is a classic example of the rich countries' agenda being forced on developing nations.
ADAM WOLFENDEN: The actual Trade Facilitation Agreement is about the richer countries in the WTO having the poorer countries improve their procedures, so importation. So the rich countries already have their standards set and they are quite high standards and effectively that agreements was about saying let's bring everyone up to this standard, and the effect of which will be greater imports for Pacific nations from their richer neighbours. For the Pacific that does nothing to facilitate their exports which is the key thing that they are really after at the moment.
DON WISEMAN: So how have they ended up in this state where everyone is so keen to sign up, to be part of the WTO?
AW: The current Pacific members of the WTO I think there are questions about just what the benefits for them really are. Tonga is an example where the benefits definitely haven't been clear. Vanuatu and Samoa - again they acceded under very onerous circumstances. PANG has great concern about WTO membership for the Pacific countries and we would very seriously warn any other Pacific countries from following that path.
DW: One of the issues that is seen as critical and this is something that the head of the World Health Organisation has commented on just recently and that is the impact that these sorts of deals could have on access to drugs and that it could be quite catastrophic as she sees it for the Pacific and other small developing states.
AW: Yeah well we have long held around the role of free trade agreements, particularly the components around intellectual property have had with access to medicines. There has been a long list of cases where countries really struggled with the imposition of these sorts of rights to property holders and what this actually means to cheap, affordable and life saving medicines for those communities and those people really in need. For us, in a lot of circumstances I imagine the case would be the same for the Pacific.
DW: This meeting in Kiribati where the trade ministers among other things are going to be looking at greater integration supposedly, this expanded idea on the Pacific Plan, an organisation like PANG is wanting them to think what?
AW: I guess they are wanting them to think differently and think from a Pacific point of view. This whole push for the Pacific Plan and agreements like PACER Plus, they are very free trade heavy, they are very neo-liberal in their assumptions and those assumptions are fine in a sense but they don't reflect the reality in the Pacific. So what we would say is the Pacific needs to stop pursuing these agreements and this idea that free trade will save the Pacific and instead take it back a step and say 'what is the Pacific reality?' and then work out what they want it to be and ground it in that reality which is far from the case with agreements like PACER Plus.
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