Promoting Transparency in the PACER Plus negotiations: Meeting of Forum Trade Officials and the ACTU

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Click here to download the media release.

The Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA) and Trade officials from Forum Island Countries (FICs) discussed the PACER Plus trade negotiations in a meeting with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), on Monday, 5 October 2015 in Melbourne.  The meeting formed part of the OCTA’s efforts to provide for transparency in the negotiations.  The discussions took place prior to the 12th PACER Plus Intersessional meeting in Melbourne.  The meeting was chaired by Ms Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU, who had requested the meeting.

From the perspective of the OCTA and the FICs, the discussions permitted information to be provided on the negotiations and to address some common misperceptions surrounding PACER Plus.        For example, with respect to the negotiations on trade in goods, the Chief Trade Adviser (CTA), Dr Edwini Kessie, noted the generous timeframes that the FICs would have to implement tariff reductions.  He also noted that the FICs would be able to shield their most sensitive and high generating revenue items from reductions or bindings. In addition, the Parties would be able to have recourse to bilateral and global safeguard measures to protect infant industries.  In that context, concerns about shock to domestic industries were unfounded.  The CTA also indicated that the implications for government revenue had been at the forefront of discussions, and appropriate flexibility was available to the FICs.  The CTA deplored the excessive estimate of revenue losses that some NGOs were erroneously putting forward and stated that the FICs would overall have net benefits from the PACER Plus Agreement considering the commitments on labour mobility and development assistance that have been assumed by Australia and New Zealand.

With respect to PACER Plus provisions on Investment and Trade in Services, the OCTA pointed out the importance of services for the economies of the FICs, and said that the Agreement would assist countries in attracting foreign investment in critical sectors of their economies to boost growth and enhance productivity.  The OCTA clarified that the Agreement would not in any way imply privatisation of government services, nor prevent governments from regulating in furtherance of public policy objectives.  Development aspects had been taken into account in the elaboration of the Chapters on Investment and Trade in Services.  Contrary to most recently concluded RTAs, the Chapters included no investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, and adopted a positive-list approach to the scheduling of commitments, whereby each Party indicated the sectors for which it was ready to guarantee a certain level of non-discrimination for foreign investors.

The ACTU indicated that it was not opposed to the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP), but emphasized the importance of providing pre-departure training and on arrival briefings for FIC workers.  This helped ensure that exploitation did not occur.  In his response, the CTA acknowledged the importance of the SWP, which the FICs saw as an essential development tool for the region.  The FICs were satisfied that the SWP did not lead to exploitation and were consistently working to improve the functioning of the scheme.

In the meeting, various representatives of the Forum Island Countries underscored that they had established domestic mechanisms to inform and consult the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders in relation to issues arising from these negotiations.

Click here to download the media release.