Forum Island Countries (FICs) have informed the just concluded meeting of the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting in Tarawa, Kiribati they are ready to conclude a legal text on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus with Australia and New Zealand by December this year.
However, this is subject to the two metropolitan powers offering substantial concessions to the key demands of labour mobility and development co-operation from island countries.
According to the Outcomes Document from the meeting obtained by PACNEWS, Forum Island Countries are refusing to back down on their key issues of interest. FICs are asking for an expansion of existing labour mobility schemes and the provision of additional resources for implementation of PACER Plus.
Forum Island Countries, which currently does not include Fiji, are treating PACER Plus as more than just conventional agreement.
Solomon Islands, as the lead spokesperson for the group said while Forum Island Countries are determined to conclude the agreement as soon as possible, they are disappointed that Australia and New Zealand have not addressed their key demands.
“Without substantive commitments on labour mobility and development assistance, it would be difficult to reach an agreement, said the Solomon Islands representative.
FICs want PACER Plus to be a balanced agreement and urged Australia and New Zealand to open up their labour markets and ensure consistency between trade and immigration policies.
Australia informed the Trade Ministers meeting of its inability to commit to expand their Seasonal Worker Program. However, it was willing to support Aid for Trade through increased support towards PACER Plus negotiations.
Forum Trade Ministers considered progress made in the PACER Plus negotiations and planned future activities.
A detailed presentation on the key negotiation priorities for PACER Plus was provided by the Chief Trade Adviser on PACER Plus, Dr Edwini Kessie. Progress on priorities regarding Development Assistance, Investment, Labour Mobility, Legal and Institutional Aspects, Rules of Origin, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), Trade in Goods and Trade in Services and other related issues was noted.