Better consultation needed on PACER Plus: Chief Trade Advisor
Better consultation needed on PACER Plus: Chief Trade Advisor
Updated 27 March 2012, 12:59 AEST
Article available here.
The Pacific’s new Chief Trade Advisor, Dr Edwini Kessie, says the consultation process for the proposed PACER Plus trade deal between the Pacific and Australia and New Zealand, must be inclusive. Better consultation needed on PACER Plus: Chief Trade Advisor (Credit: ABC)
Dr Kessie was speaking yesterday in Brisbane, at the second region-wide consultation on PACER plus for business and non-government organisations.
His comments came as one of the region’s leading trade NGOs, the Suva-based Pacific Network on Globalisation, boycotted the Brisbane event because it said too many key organisations have been unable to attend due to lack of funding.
Dr Kessie says business and NGOs, or non-state actors as they are called in the jargon, have a key role to play in PACER Plus.
*Presenter:* Pacific Economic and Business reporter
*Speaker:* Dr Edwini Kessie, Pacific’s new Chief Trade Advisor
KESSIE: Given that the representatives of the people they have the links to the people, they basically are in daily touch with the relevant stakeholders, so it is quite important for us to engage them. If we don’t engage them now then any eventual agreement may not have the support and it will raise problems with implementation. So I think right from the beginning it is important for us to engage non-state actors right from the beginning, keep them informed, seek their views and then try to incorporate their views into the positions that we are adopting in negotiations.
GARRETT: So how important is it that consultations include the critics as well as the supporters of PACER Plus?
KESSIE: I think at the end of the day we have to be inclusive and we cannot only listen to those who support PACER Plus, but the critics as well, I think they also have a role to play. It is important to have in mind all the divergent positions and then actually craft a policy which would accommodate all the various interests groups.
GARRETT: Involvement has been a contentious issue at this meeting in Brisbane. Should more groups have been offered funding to attend the Brisbane meeting?
KESSIE: In principle yes, but obviously given the global financial crisis it’s quite difficult and sometimes I think there is broad agreement if we had had brought participation would have been very helpful, but the reality is that the funding possibilities were quite limited, but in future should we have more funding possibilities then definitely we’ll welcome a much broader participation of various groups into the dialogue, yeah.
GARRETT: The next level down of consultations is national consultations on PACER Plus. Now you say that it’s imperative that adequate and predictable funding be made available for those consultations. What do you mean by that exactly?
KESSIE: Well I think the feedback we have received from many of the countries today is that they have been unable to carry out their national consultations effectively because of funding related problems. So it is against that background that I made a statement that it’d be very important for funding to be secure and predictable. Many of them admitted that their consultations have not been very effective, mainly because apart from the financial difficulties, but also human constraints. But if they were to have resources then that will enable them to plan ahead. So it’s in that context that I made a statement.
GARRETT: The key question of course is where you get the money from? Who should be providing the funding for those national consultations?
KESSIE: Well obviously I think most of them have in mind Australia and New Zealand being the main donors, so I think it’s Australia and New Zealand. And also other sources, maybe the European Union as well. But basically I think it’s Australia and New Zealand.
GARRETT: In your speech to the PACER Plus consultation in Brisbane you announced that the office of the Chief Trade Advisor has finally stitched up a three-year deal for funding from Australia. How much will Australia be providing and over how long?
KESSIE: Well it is for one million dollars, because Australia has already provided the first range, so the funding arrangement is for one million dollars, and that will be 500-thousand for this year, and another 500-thousand for next year.
GARRETT: There had been allegations that Australia was threatening the independence of the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor by insisting on three month funding reviews. Will those reviews go ahead?
KESSIE: No there was nothing of that sort in the agreement. There was no provision to that effect.
GARRETT: Before you took over the job as the Pacific’s Chief Trade Advisor, you spent 18 years working at the World Trade Organisation, and you’re still a staff member. The Pacific does not want a standard free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand, it wants a much broader arrangement catering to all the different needs of the different countries. Will your background at the WTO be a help or a hindrance in that?
KESSIE: Well I think it will have a positive impact. I think the leaders have agreed that PACER Plus shouldn’t be a conventional free trade agreement, that the whole objective should be to assist the Pacific Island countries to achieve sustainable growth and development. So I think we are starting from that point, that it will not be your conventional free trade agreement where there will be commitments, but we need to be very creative, very innovative, give a lot of special and differential treatment, but basically I think development will be at the core of PACER Plus.
GARRETT: How will you allay people’s fears that you might after working at the World Trade Organisation for so long be a creature of the WTO?
KESSIE: Personally I think the WTO, the multilateral the system is a….. force for good. Obviously if you look at the current prosperity of the world, the multilateral trading system has done a lot in terms of creating global prosperity. But obviously there are challenges in the sense that not many countries, especially the least developed countries, there are about 48 of them, and they only account for zero-point-eight per cent of the world, so there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure that the benefits from trade are evenly spread around. And that is a challenge and I think gradually we have seen that some least developed countries and world trade is beginning to increase, but clearly there’s more to be done to ensure that the countries which are marginalised in the trading system actually reap significant benefits from the system.
GARRETT: When we look at the future of PACER Plus, what was the message that you’re taking away from the business and the non-government organisations that attended the PACER Plus consultations there in Brisbane?
KESSIE: I think they do attach a lot of important to PACER Plus, given the fact that Australia and New Zealand are the major trading partners of the Forum Island countries. They want to see progress, but they want to be sure that their views are taken onboard. They don’t want to have an agreement and later on they don’t want to be basically an afterthought once everything is just up and then they are consulted. So they want to be engaged right from the beginning, they want their issues, they want to be briefed on substantive issues, not only on process. So that was the message that I took away from this meeting that they really want to be engaged and they’re looking up to OCTA and the Forum Secretariat and others to try to brief them as we go along in the negotiations.