NGOs want PACER Plus talks to stop
Civil society organisations in the Pacific are calling for a suspension to PACER PLUS negotiations and the immediate release of all negotiation texts to the public.
Civil society organisations in the Pacific are calling for a suspension to PACER Plus negotiations and the immediate release of all negotiation texts to the public.
The call comes as the latest round of talks on the free trade deal get underway in Samoa with the focus on labour mobility, development assistance and trade in goods.
The Pacific Network on Globalisation, or PANG, says the so called "development agreement" is forcing Pacific island countries to shoulder the burden of legal commitments in the talks while Australia and New Zealand offer voluntary commitments.
PANG campaigner Adam Wolfenden says Pacific NGOs oppose an agreement they see as unnecessary and out of touch with the economic context of many Pacific Island nations.
ADAM WOLFENDEN: The agreement itself won't really give, well wont allow the Pacific countries to do anything that they couldn't have done beforehand. So all the benefits that are being sold as, that come under PACER plus through liberalising there services or their investment regimes in the hope that more investment will come in. Pacific Island countries can do that unilaterally of their own free will they don't need PACER Plus to legally bind them into those commitments. And that is something that we would argue, that they should if they are interested in liberalising their sectors they should just do that unilaterally so that they can respond to any changes or any problems that may arise from that liberalisation.
KOROI HAWKINS: Seasonal employment or labour mobility is a big carrot, so to speak that is being put in front of Pacific Island countries. Is it, does it actually feature within PACER Plus?
AW: What we are hearing is that it will exist in Parallel in a sense. Australia and New Zealand have long argued that they don't want to make binding commitments on labour mobility, something that countries of the Pacific are mandated to negotiate around. But what we are hearing from officials is that there will be some agreement on labour mobility but it won't be a legally binding one.
KH: What are the real changes on the ground that Pacific Islanders, businesses, the public will actually feel once this is agreement is signed if it is signed?
AW: What we are seeing and this is from the text that has been leaked and other discussions that we are having with officials is that there is, on the one hand there's reduced ability for governments to, I guess, enact a policy and have a discussion that puts Pacific development at its centre. So all the, a lot of the policies and measures that countries like Australia or New Zealand have used to support their local industries, to nurture them either through subsidies and grants or protection through high tariffs. A lot of that is going to be undermined through an agreement like PACER Plus. Let alone there are issues around government revenue that will come from cuts to taxes as well. And that has carry on effects to how government's administer essential services like you know health education even transport infrastructure that sort of thing as well.
KH: As negotiations continue and draw closer and closer to a final closure. What are you calling for, what are civil society organisations in the region calling for?
AW: We are calling for an immediate release of the text, well suspension of negotiations, release of the text and the conducting of you know human rights impact assessments on those texts. So that we have a sense of what this is fully going to mean not just the economic rhetoric that is sort of being pushed by governments and the office of the Chief Trade Advisor.
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