A New Zealand law professor, Dr Jane Kelsey, says Pacific countries cannot legally reach agreement on trade issues without input from Fiji.
Pacific Trade Ministers meet in Apia in Samoa from tomorrow but Fiji is not represented because of its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum over its failure to hold elections this year.
The Ministers will continue consultations on the enlarged version of the Pacer Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, PACER-Plus, with New Zealand and Australia pushing for formal negotiations to begin within months, well ahead of the originally scheduled time of 2011.
Dr Kelsey say it can't be legally done without Fiji.
"PACER is a separate legal instrument from the Pacific Islands Forum. Suspending Fiji from the Forum does not legitimise excluding them from any discussions on PACER. Therefore any decision made by the parties to PACER, in the absence of Fiji, doesn't have a lawful foundation."
Dr Kelsey says Fiji had previously been one of the most rigorous island nations in demanding caution over PACER, so its absence could allow New Zealand and Australia to fast track the deal.