Call for Pacific Islanders to debate free trade plans
Pacific Islanders are being urged to engage in debate over what Pacific nations may be giving up by agreeing to free trade deals.
Pacific Islanders are being urged to engage in more debate over whether the Pacific really needs free trade deals to prosper.
The Pacific Network on Globalisation or PANG has just launched a briefing paper outlining the ways it says free trade agreements can undermine customary land systems and facilitate the privatisation of land.
PANG's trade justice campaigner, Adam Wolfenden, told Amelia Langford the paper is designed to set out a host of complex issues in a clear way without resorting to jargon or legalese.
ADAM WOLFENDEN: The briefing paper came out of discussions that we have found around free trade. The issues are very complex, it is a very complicated and legalese kind of issue and we wanted to put out a briefing paper that deconstructed a lot of that and made it a very accessible issue for people in the islands for people who don't necessarily have a legal or trade background. So the idea of the paper was to cut through a lot of that and give it to people so they for themselves could understand what was happening in these trade negotiations.
AMELIA LANGFORD:So basically are you saying the Pacific region is fundamentally unsuited to free trade?
AW: Effectively, yeah. The reality of the Pacific sits in almost direct contradiction to the ideology of free trade. So free trade is very much about the individual and you break it down to what you are best at producing and you go from there. Whereas land as an entity in the Pacific is far more complex and diverse and not about individual ownership but about webs of connection both for culture, livelihood, for communities. All these sort of connections come out of land. That's a far more communal focus, which free trade and free trade advocates come in and say 'well that's inefficient use of land'. You know 'land should be privatised, carved up and specialised' and we are saying that is not the Pacific reality and the land systems in the Pacific have supported Pacific Islanders forever and free trade wants to come in and challenge that in a way that we argue would be to a huge detriment to the Pacific Islanders.
AL: And so with the briefing paper, what are you hoping will come out of this?
AW: Ideally, basically we want a lot more Pacific Islanders to understand the very real threats out there for custom land from free trade and free trade agreements and to then be able to engage in these discussions and in these debates to determine for themselves how the Pacific should proceed. Like PANG obviously has its view but we also want this to be something all the Pacific Islanders to understand and engage on.
AL: So almost to make it a more democratic process?
AW: Yeah and I think also to hold governments to account as well, even some of the trade officials we speak to say they have trouble with negotiating some of these issues particularly trade and services and investment. They are very complex, very difficult issues. The big countries also make mistakes in how they determine what they commit in these agreements. So what we are trying to see is that these discussions get opened up - these are very broad discussions, they are very big issues that we feel aren't being fully discussed or fully understood at the time as well.
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