Pacific's chief trade advisor believes parties can compromise
Labour mobility and development assistance are the main issues dividing the parties involved in the PACER Plus trade deal, but the Pacific's chief trade advisor believes both sides are determined to find a way forward.
The latest round aof negotiations for the regional trade and economic development agreement were held in Auckland last week.
Dr Edwini Kessie, who provides support for the island countries in their negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, says progress was made across most areas .
But he told Bridget Tunnicliffe the question of whether commitments to labour mobility arrangements should be legally binding, continues to be a sticking point.
EDWINI KESSIE: Australia and New Zealand want to treat labour mobility outside of PACER Plus and the Pacific Island countries want legally binding commitments so that is the main issue dividing the parties. Other Pacific island countries would also like Australia and New Zealand to increase the numbers under the present [Indistinct] because Australia, they admit around 3,000 workers a year, whereas New Zealand is between 8,000 and 9,000. So the Pacific Island countries want Australia and New Zealand to remove the cuts under their respective labour schemes.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: Is this potentially a deal-breaker?
EK: Well, I think the parties are determined to find a solution going forward. I think we've come a long way. They know that is a very sensitive issue - development assistance and labour mobility are very difficult issues. But obviously they would expect some movement on the parts of Australia and New Zealand. So potentially it could be a deal-breaker, but I think the parties are all committed to finding a solution.
BT: What is the likelihood of New Zealand and Australia, though, agreeing to that condition? Is there a compromise here or is it all or nothing?
EK: I think there would be a compromise. Australia and New Zealand have indicated that they would consider other options which would satisfy the Pacific Island countries. Political I think is quite difficult for Australia and New Zealand to have labour mobility in the PACER Plus agreement. But I think we should find a creative way of advancing the negotiations.
BT: And in terms of development assistance, what is the issue here? Is it the smaller island countries wanting more assistance from the likes of Australia and New Zealand?
EK: Precisely. The assistance we divided into two. The first one would relate to what we call implementation assistance, which Australia and New Zealand have committed to. Australia and New Zealand would assist the Pacific Island countries to implement the obligations under the PACER Plusagreement. But the Pacific Island countries want new and additional resources to help them to address the supply strengths, which prevents them from taking advantage of market access opportunities under trade agreements. So assistance which would help them to fix their port, dirt roads, strengthen productive capacity in their countries. So this is [what] we are currently discussing.
Dr Edwini Kessie says Pacific Island countries would like negotiations to be wrapped up by the end of next year.