By R Narayan
In an interview with PACNEWS at the Non State Actors (NSA) dialogue on PACER plus in Nadi at the weekend, Dr Kessie assured the proposed agreement will reflects the best interest of Forum Island Countries (FICs).
He dismissed the notion that PACER plus is not designed to support a dynamic Pacific economy but will only allow the bigger companies from Australia and New Zealand to further their interest in the markets of the region.
“I don’t think that is accurate. The agreement is infused with development provisions. The FICs will have the flexibility if for example they want to protect their domestic industries they will be able to do so under the agreement.
“The agreement should also help them to attract investment into their country. Australia and New Zealand have committed to help them not only to implement the agreement but also provide assistance to address the supply- side constraints which have prevented them from taking advantage of trade agreement. At the end of the day I believe the PACER plus agreement will provide a platform which the countries can use to expand their economies,” Dr Kessie toldPACNEWS.
He said negotiation on the agreement will ensure local industries in the region are protected and safe guard their product.
“The draft modalities that we are working with countries would have the flexibility. We have five baskets A, B, C, D and E. If they put a particular product under basket D they don’t have to reduce the tariff on that particular product.So, if a country wants to protect its industry it can put that product either in basket D or E, it means that you don’t do anything at all”.
“So there is that flexibility for countries to either put products in basket D and E, in addition to we are negotiating a safeguard provision which countries can have recourse to.”
“We are also talking about an infant industry clause. There isn’t an agreement yet on that provision but it’s still under discussion,” he emphasised.
Dr Kessie said Forum Island countries stand to gain more than lose from PACER Plus.
“I would say that we are negotiating an agreement that would bring eventual prosperity to the Pacific.
We are trying to make sure that the agreement really reflects the interest of the Pacific Islands countries, so I’m quite confident the agreement will contribute to the economic growth and sustainable development of Pacific island countries,” he stressed.
Shiu Raj, Officer-in-charge for PACER plus at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat also echoed the same sentiments.
“The idea of consolidating all these countries trade to an agreement such as PACER Plus so that we are able to help each other in terms of responding to our development needs. And the way discussions are currently happening there is a huge demand placed on negotiators to make sure that PACER Plus effectively respond to the needs of smaller islands in the Pacific.
“If the agreement does not respond to the needs of Pacific Islands then off course the agreement will not serve the purpose which the leaders have asked that these negotiations be pursued. I can say quite clearly all these discussion in the past two days have been constructive to see how best PACER plus can respond to our specific needs with the interest of the FICs our primary concern,” Raj told PACNEWS.
With the Eighth PACER Plus Officials Meeting today, Dr Kessie confirmed they have concluded all chapters of the agreement with negotiators to proceed to finalisation of the agreement.
“Currently we have concluded negotiation on all the chapters, so we do have standing issues in the area of trade in goods, temporary movements of natural persons, Rules of Origin and General concessions clause so will be focusing on how to bridge the gaps of the parties as far as this agreement is concerned,” he said.
Forum Leaders have requested that a high quality trade and investment agreement among the Forum Members be concluded by June 2016.