Melanesian Free Trade Agreement to start in 2017
A Melanesian Free Trade Agreement has been reached following negotiations in Vanuatu this week.
A Melanesian Free Trade Agreement has been reached following negotiations in Vanuatu last week.
Trade Ministers and officials from the Melanesian Spearhead Group countries endorsed the conclusion of three years of negotiations at a meeting in Port Vila.
The meeting's chair, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Milner Tozaka, says it's a milestone achievement that will see the establishment of a Free Trade Area by 2017.
The MSG's Programme Manager of Trade and Investment, Johnny Licht told Koroi Hawkins the agreement can now expand to include trade in services, labour mobility and investment, as well as goods.
JOHNNY LICHT: We have looked through the market in each of the MSG countries and we have negotiated to a greater extent. We have got in people from Labour immigration even investment people into this trade agreement negotiations which has concluded and we looked at some sectors that member countries have shortages in. So in terms of the schedules of employment occupations each member country has a schedule of occupations that is a list of occupations that they have agreed to open up and each member country's lost of occupations varies depending on its strategies and the dynamic changes in its labour market for example. And the labour mobility agreement that we have provides for freedom of movement for people to move within MSG countries for employment purposes and that you are right it goes as far as a waiver on permits and work permits and visas. And also preferences for the spouse and the family of the person in question that is looking for employment or if is entering the territory of another member country. To take up employment. So there is a waiver on permit fees and also work permit and visas for him or her and the family that is accompanying that person.
KOROI HAWKINS: And the e-commerce and communications, how does that work?
JL: On e-commerce and communications we know that we are in an era of telecommunications and also ecommerce is also booming in all of the MSG countries and we have included in it the chapter on ecommerce that provides for improvement on ecommerce or access to use of public communications network and services between MSG countries where members have agreed to accord access to in use of telecommunications and specific sectors in its services agreement. And also we also looked at areas of providing competitive services for our member countries by way of inviting more competitors to the telecommunications sector. So that we can have competitive players and we can have quality and reduced pricing in the telecommunications sector which each member country. The agreement also talked about the need to have regulatory authorities. Competent regulatory authorities in each member country that can function independently and provide the regulatory support that the government needs in each member country. So it is quite a small chapter in itself but it is a chapter that members have negotiated in good faith and it has an understanding that members will work on improving those chapters and moving to other sectors and in it also included electronic commerce and computer services and other sectors on electronic identification and digital certificates for example moving out from paper to a paper less era where e-commerce is very important for businesses.
KH: Are there any omissions, are there any things that have been left out of the negotiations that are probably left to be considered in the future?
JL: Well our trade agreement we can say we probably, we haven't covered lots of things that we thing we could cover at this time, for example. airservices agreement is one. Where we know that our airlines are interested in talking about the ASAs but its a competent area that our negotiators are not competent to undertake negotiations on and we respectfully leave that aside for our respective civil aviation authorities in each of the MSGTA countries to look at and bring back to table for negotiations when they feel the time is right perhaps bilaterally or within a framework within the MSG civil aviations network. So that is not included. There are also other areas such as maritime, shipping arrangements that again it is a separate competent entity of its own that we are not including in this trade agreement. It will need a lot of time and need special people from the shipping sector and so maybe these are some areas that maybe of demand and maybe people may be talking about in the airline or shipping industries but as far as goods and services is concerned we are confident that we have come up with a better trade agreement a more improved, refined, comprehensive trade agreement that can provide for opportunities for those who want to trade not just in goods but also in other sectors including the services sector, labour mobility for a better future for the people of Melanesia within the MSG trade agreement. But lastly just to reflect that this trade agreement is not only confined to the MSG members within the MSG territory. It is also opened to third parties, countries that are not party to the MSG can also join the trade agreement if they wish. They could apply to the secretariat and indicate their interest and members to the MSGTA will consider and they are invited to join the trade agreement pending one or two requirements on the trading regimes and so it is opened to third parties as well to join the trade agreement.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: