The Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade for the Solomon Islands, Mr Milner Tozaka, who is also the Chairman of the OCTA Governing Board and Lead Spokesperson of the Forum Island Countries on PACER Plus, has hailed progress in the negotiations and is confident that they would be wrapped up by the middle of next year as instructed by the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum last month at their meeting in Port Moresby. Speaking from Niue where the OCTA Governing Board is meeting to discuss developments in the negotiations and the future of the OCTA, Minister Tozaka credited the progress in the negotiations to the commitments on development assistance and labour mobility assumed by Australia and New Zealand.
With respect to development assistance, he said that Australia and New Zealand have agreed to provide support to the FICs not only to implement their obligations under the PACER Plus Agreement, but to provide targeted technical and financial assistance to assist the FICs to address the supply side constraints which have hampered their efforts to increase and diversify their trade.
Regarding labour mobility, Minister Tozaka welcomed the lifting of the cap under the SWP and the extension of the programme to the entire agricultural sector as well as to the accommodation sector in selected locations by Australia. He also welcomed the increase of the cap under the RSE from 8000 to 9000 and the pilot initiatives in the construction sector within the framework of the Canterbury Rebuilding Programme and in the aquaculture sector. He expressed the wish that pilot programmes will be broadened very soon to enable the participation of all FICs and the cap under the RSE increased to reflect the growing demand of Pacific workers by New Zealand farmers, who recognise their hard work and dedication.
Minister Tozaka said that there were a few issues to be resolved in the Temporary Movement of Natural Persons Chapter, where the FICs were expecting commitments beyond traditional Mode 4 categories and also on temporary employment. Regarding the Trade in Goods Chapter, he noted that there were three main issues to be resolved, namely the scope of the MFN clause, the scope of the bilateral safeguard article and infant industry protection for FIC firms. While these issues were difficult, he said that with a spirit of compromise, they can be resolved to the satisfaction of all the Parties by the next intersessional meeting in December.
“We have come a long way since the negotiations commenced in August 2009. We are on the cusp of concluding a comprehensive trade agreement between the FICs, Australia and New Zealand and every effort should be made to resolve the few outstanding issues. PACER Plus holds the key to reversing the marginalisation of the FICs in international trade and all the Parties should work intensively to conclude the negotiations by June 2016 as directed by the Leaders”, said Minister Tozaka.
The Minister of Trade of Kiribati, Hon Pinto Katia, who is Vice-Chairman of the OCTA Governing Board, also welcomed the progress in the PACER Plus negotiations and acknowledged the excellent efforts of FIC negotiators and technical support and advice from OCTA.
“The Parties have managed to secure respectable outcomes on labour mobility and development assistance, two issues of paramount interest to the FICs. With flexibility on all sides, we should be able to conclude the negotiations by June 2016, so that the FICs could also benefit from increased trade and investment and meet the post-2015 development agenda”, said Minister Katia.
The Minister of Commerce, Tourism and Labour, Hon Pohiva Tu’í’onetoa of Tonga, who is also a Vice-chairman of the OCTA, concurred with views expressed by Ministers Tozaka and Pinto. He noted that the FICs have not benefitted from international trade and this is the first time the region as a whole has the opportunity to conclude an ambitious agreement that would facilitate their greater participation in international trade.
“The PACER Plus negotiations have entered a decisive phase after more than six years of intensive negotiations. There is the expectation that PACER Plus will live up to its potential and deliver real benefits to the FICs and their people who are yearning for enhanced living standards. Australia and New Zealand should provide assistance commensurate with the development needs of the FICs so that they can take advantage of the PACER Plus Agreement to attain robust growth rates and sustainable development”, said Minister Tu’í’onetoa.
The next PACER Plus intersessional meeting is expected to take place in the second week of December in Nadi, Fiji.