The conclusion of the regional trade negotiations, known as PACER-Plus, offers little for Pacific Island Countries in guaranteed benefits but burdens them with legally binding costs, with the real winners in this poorly designed trade agreement are Australia and New Zealand, argues the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG).
“What has been concluded is a deal that promises benefits on labour mobility and aid money but undermines the ability of the Pacific to determine for themselves what development is and the tools to pursue Pacific development aspirations. No amount of aid funds can adequately compensate for the loss of policy space that governments will need to be developmentally self determining,” said PANG’s Trade Campaigner, Mr Adam Wolfenden.
The controversial agreement was concluded by Australia, New Zealand and 12 Forum Island Countries. Papua New Guinea has withdrawn from the talks whilst Fiji was absent from the meeting.
“Papua New Guinea evaluated PACER-Plus as a ‘net-loss’ for their economy and the failure to ensure that Pacific Island Countries can protect their industries has resulted in Fiji’s absence. If the two biggest economies in the Pacific see this agreement as not only not having a benefit but in fact contain threats to their infant industries, then you really see just how bad this deal is,” continued Wolfenden.
The Solomon Islands government recently described PACER-Plus to the World Trade Organization as seeing increased imports from Australia and New Zealand as “likely to exceed the modest increase in Solomon Islands’ exports” and for the “short term adjustment and implementation costs are likely to impose significant economic and political pressures.”
New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay stated that PACER-Plus will contain a development package of NZD$55million for Pacific Island Countries as well as “future proofs [New Zealand] access whilst helping develop their exports.”
“The description by Minister McClay of PACER-Plus as ‘future-proofing’ the access of New Zealand companies to the region goes to the heart of why this deal was pushed. Make no mistake, this is a deal that benefits Australian and New Zealand exporters with some little sweeteners thrown in to dress it up,” he said.
The text of the PACER-Plus agreement is yet to be released. The “Defending Pacific Ways of Life” Social Impact Assessment, based on leaked text of the agreement, found that PACER-Plus would have significant negative impacts on health, gender, the right to regulate and the right to food.
Mr Wolfenden added that, “there may be an agreement but Pacific people are still shut out of what has been agreed to. Releasing the legally binding texts and market access schedules after they have been agreed to robs the people of the Pacific and democratic parliamentary processes from the ability to have a say in what will impact them for decades.”
The Vanuatu Council of Ministers is still to make a decision on whether or not they will go ahead and sign PACER-Plus.
“We are calling on all governments to release all documents immediately to ensure democratic process take place and people and their parliamentary representatives are allowed the time to understand what is at stake. Pacific people must have the final voice in determining whether or not their country is to sign onto PACER-Plus,” concluded Wolfenden.
The signing of PACER-Plus is scheduled to take place on June 16th in Tonga.