18 Jul 2013

PNG urged to come to table to discuss trade agreement

4:58 pm on 18 July 2013

An MP representing New Zealand at the Pacific Islands Trade Ministers Meeting in Samoa says it's important for Papua New Guinea to come to the table to discuss a regional trade and economic development agreement.

PNG's Minister for Trade, Commerce and Industry, Richard Maru, told Radio New Zealand International that they've withdrawn from any future discussions on the PACER Plus agreement.

But the private secretary for Foreign Affairs in New Zealand, John Hayes, says that doesn't appear to be PNG's official position, based on talks in the last 24 hours with a PNG representative in Samoa.

He told Bridget Tunnicliffe it's in everyone's interests to at least form part of the discussion.

JOHN HAYES: We want to engage in this because we think it's a way for facilitating the growth of trade between Pacific Forum countries. And that's, of course, important for creating jobs in Pacific economies - our own, as well.

BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: Papua New Guinea has voiced, or Richard Maru has voiced, concerns about what they would get out of the PACER Plus agreement. How are you going to convince these countries that it is going to be mutually beneficial?

JH: The PACER Plus agreement helps to facilitate trade, and I think it's really important for Papua New Guinea, as a part of the region, to be engaged in that process because of the size of its economy.

BT: One of the criticisms has been that it's just too one-sided and they're not going to get anything out of it, and Australia and New Zealand are the ones set to benefit. How can you convince them otherwise?

JH: Well, I don't think that's the case at all, and I also would feel that better to have a seat at the table and be putting on the table what you would like to get out of it than standing outside the room and having no say on what the rest of the Pacific is up to.

BT: Some members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group have talked about developing trade amongst themselves first, consolidating that before looking at the wider region, are you concerned that that attitude could undermine PACER Plus?

JH: As in Papua New Guinea, the region has a lot of diversity, and that gives us a unique strength. And I think it's more important for all of us in the region to work together, because doing that will help the interests of our small brothers who are not as well-endowed as Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia or Fiji. We're a big region and we have a lot of large ocean space separated by a lot of sea, a lot of distance. And meetings like this help bring people together and help them to engage with each other. That's why I think these meetings are so important because of the tyranny of distance. What I think is really important is that as a region we remain a tight cohesive group and don't splinter. And whether you're living in Tahiti or you're living in Guam or you're living in Papua New Guinea, we're all part of the same Pacific ocean. And I think it's really important that we work as a group for the benefit of all of us. Because if we don't do that we just split our ability to deliver really good economic rewards, jobs, and those sort of things for the communities that we represent.