Trade Officials from Forum Island Countries (FICs) are meeting their counterparts from Australia and New Zealand this week in Nadi, Fiji to progress the PACER Plus negotiations with a view to concluding them by June 2016 as mandated by the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in September 2015 in Port Moresby.
The meeting was opened by Fiji’s Minister for Trade, Faiyaz Koya, who in his opening address stated that PACER Plus could lay the foundation for increased exports, job creation, and poverty alleviation in the Forum Island Countries if the agreement’s provisions reflected the principles which led to the launch of negotiations in August 2009. He noted that more needed to be done to ensure that the current agreements on the table were fair and balanced from the perspective of the Forum Island Countries.
“Development should be at the core of PACER Plus and the final outcome should reflect this by taking into account the different levels of development between Australia and New Zealand on one hand and the Pacific Island Countries on the other and also within the Pacific Island Countries”, said Mr. Koya.
In subsequent discussions during the opening day, trade officials of other FICs expressed satisfaction with the significant progress made in the negotiations and resolved to redouble their efforts to conclude them within the envisaged time frame. They acknowledged the support being provided to them by the OCTA in the negotiations and renewed their confidence in the organisation. They stated that it was the member countries which were driving the negotiations and that the OCTA only played a facilitative role.
The Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Solomon Islands and the Lead Negotiator for the FICs, Mr Joseph Ma’ahanua, expressed satisfaction with the development dimension in the various PACER Plus Chapters.
“Development interests have been reflected in the texts agreed thus far. We are satisfied with the way the negotiations have been conducted. The FICs will enjoy many flexibilities under the PACER Plus Agreement, underscoring that it will not be a conventional free trade agreement, but one that delivers results on development assistance and labour mobility. Concrete steps have already been taken to ensure that the FICs derive significant benefits from PACER Plus. In response to demands of the FICs, Australia removed the cap on its seasonal worker programme and New Zealand has increased the cap under the RSE from 8000 to 9000, which should generate significant economic benefits for all the FICs,” said Mr Ma’ahanua.
Development will remain at the centre of our preoccupations for the remainder of the negotiations, and efforts will be made to address the specific concerns that Fiji, which only joined the negotiations last year, had expressed.”
The Chief Trade Adviser for the Forum Island Countries, Dr. Edwini Kessie, says that the Parties will focus on the few outstanding negotiating issues and advance work on the exchange of initial offers on tariffs, trade in services, investment, and the movement of natural persons.
“The negotiations are on track to achieve a development-friendly agreement that will provide a strong framework for the FICs to adopt policies which should create an enabling environment for trade and investment to flourish in the region,” said Dr Kessie.
The next intersessional meeting is scheduled to take place on 2-4 March 2016 in Brisbane, Australia.