The Pacific Network on Globalisation prepared a Briefing Paper for Pacific Island Trade Ministers in the lead up to their Special Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Brisbane (October 23/24).  That Briefing Paper outlines the case for viable alternatives to PACER-Plus – including giving an overview of improvements that could be made to existing regional trade agreements to help the Pacific island countries take advantage of trading opportunities they have with Australia and New Zealand.  That paper, New trading arrangements with Australia and New Zealand: What options for development?, is available now.  See here for a two page Summary Document containing key recommendations.

Outcomes document:

23 – 24 October 2009

The Forum Trade Ministers met in Brisbane, Australia on 23 – 24 October 2009. Member Countries represented were Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Observers comprised representatives from the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The Meeting was chaired by Mr Simon Crean, Minister for Trade, Australia.

See below for full outcomes document:
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Fresh talks aimed at establishing a new Pacific free trade agreement, known as PACER Plus, are about to get underway this morning in the eastern Australian city of Brisbane. There are still a number of sticking points to be ironed out, with many critics saying the Pacific Island countries would be easily overpowered by Australia and New Zealand if they went ahead with the agreement.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: William Haomae, Solomon Islands Trade Minister in Brisbane; Wesley Morgan, Pacific Network on Globalisation, PANG, in Fiji


Posted at 07:54 on 22 October, 2009 UTC

The NGO the Pacific Network on Globalisation, PANG, says it would be more viable for Pacific countries to modernise the existing SPARTECA trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand rather than pursue closer economic relations through PACER Plus.

Negotiations on PACER Plus begin tomorrow in Brisbane with Pacific Trade Ministers meeting to development a time line for how they will debate the deal.

NGOs in the Pacific are wary of PACER Plus and fear New Zealand and Australia want a deal that will impose onerous commitments on the island countries.

PANG spokesperson, Wesley Morgan, says there would be more benefit in revitalising SPARTECA and this could include the removal of non tariff barriers.

“The assessment of agricultural exports from the Pacific countries has been extra-ordinarily slow. The assessment are around one product every two years from all of the island countries in terms of agricultural produce is assessed for entry, for meeting the quarantine requirements. And we feel that that is just one area that could be prioritised as a commitment to growing trade in the island countries.”

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Oct 23, 2009, 11:27

The Government of Fiji, in written notification to the other member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum, has today given notice of its intention to suspend the operation of Part Two of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER), pursuant to Article 60 of the Vienna Convention.
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By Online Editor

2:11 pm GMT+12, 21/10/2009, Australia

Pacific Island Trade Officials and Ministers will meet their Australian and New Zealand counterparts this week, in Brisbane, to discuss a new trade deal.

“There has been a concerted push by Australia and New Zealand to move PACER Plus negotiations forward. This is unnecessary and will not result in a positive outcome,” said Harvey Purse, Campaigner for the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network (AFTINET), Some Pacific governments and civil society groups have asked for more time for consultation and studies to be done to assess the impact of a proposed free trade agreement on fragile Pacific Island economies. Continue Reading »

By Online Editor

2:12 pm GMT+12, 21/10/2009, New Zealand

Trade officials are assembling in Brisbane today to kick off negotiations on a new Pacific trade agreement. Ministers will follow later in the week. This is a crucial meeting which will test whether Australia and New Zealand are prepared to listen to the Pacific’s needs and aspirations, or whether they will push an inappropriate model of development on the Pacific.

Even before they have started, trade negotiations between the Pacific Island countries, and Australia and New Zealand, have been controversial. In August, two days before the Pacific Islands Forum, the heads of state of the 14 Pacific nations were adamant in saying that they were not ready to negotiate and that Fiji needed to be included. But by the time the Forum meeting had ended, they had done a complete about turn and agreed to start negotiations, and to exclude Fiji from full participation. There is no doubt that Australia and New Zealand can get their way in the Pacific, but at what price? Continue Reading »

11:14 am GMT+12, 20/10/2009, Fiji

Pacific Trade Ministers will meet with their Australian and New Zealand counterparts in Brisbane this week to discuss a new regional trade deal.  Here, Maureen Penjueli and Wesley Morgan explain why that meeting must consider development-friendly alternatives for the region.

At this year’s Forum Leaders’ Meeting, held in August in Cairns, Pacific leaders bowed to pressure from Australia and New Zealand to begin negotiations for a new regional trade agreement (PACER-Plus) four years ahead of schedule. Next week, Forum Trade Ministers will meet in Brisbane (October 21-24), to discuss the timeline and coverage of those negotiations.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean and Tim Groser from New Zealand look set to push for Pacific countries to agree to negotiate a free trade deal under PACER-Plus.  They are likely to argue for a deal that extends the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) across the Pacific, and for the conclusion of negotiations as soon as possible.

But to negotiate such a free trade agreement would see new binding rules imposed on the Island countries – rules which could lead to massive government revenue losses, a decline in access to essential services, an undermining of local food production and indigenous land rights, increased unemployment and industry closure.

Thankfully however, there is no requirement to negotiate PACER-Plus as a traditional free trade agreement. Unlike the EPA negotiations – where the expiry of a WTO waiver threatened to damage Pacific tuna and sugar exports if a new free trade deal wasn’t struck before the end of 2007 – Pacific Trade Ministers have lots of options available for the design of new trade negotiations. Continue Reading »

3:49 pm GMT+12, 20/10/2009, Vanuatu

PACER Plus has proven to be a particularly divisive topic in the region, mirroring the global debate for and against free trade agreements. Pacific Islands Forum ministers and officials meet this week in Brisbane to map out a framework to move negotiations forward.

Despite an exhaustive (and perhaps exhausting) tour of the Pacific this year by Australian and New Zealand ministers and officials – a tour that sought to assure governments and the public that PACER Plus would be development focused and more than just a trade agreement – there remains an overwhelming public perception that PACER Plus is not in the best interest of the islands. Pacific leaders have also sought to quell fears that they have been ‘ambushed’ and assert PACER Plus is not being ‘forced’ upon them.

So why, after clocking up so many air miles and so much media space, are civil society groups and the wider population still not convinced?

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3:53 pm GMT+12, 20/10/2009, Fiji

Fiji’s foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola has cautioned Forum Island Countries(FICs) to carefully consider their positions on the framework the PACER Plus agreement.

Ratu Inoke made the statement ahead of the special Forum Trade Officials and Ministers meetings that will be held in Brisbane, Australia from 22-24 October

The Forum Leaders Meeting held in Cairns, Australia in early August, which had excluded Fiji, directed that Forum Trade Ministers discuss a framework for PACER Plus negotiations, including timelines, coverage and issues in respect of which the Chief Trade Advisor could negotiate. Continue Reading »