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A view from the countryside

Written By : Source: PACNEWS OPINION. The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between the Pacific and the European Union (EU) were indeed an education for many Pacific trade negotiators. From
20 Nov 2010 12:00

Written By : Source: PACNEWS OPINION. The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between the Pacific and the European Union (EU) were indeed an education for many Pacific trade negotiators. From the slaughter house of Brussels Centra Brochette where former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson humiliated Pacific Trade Ministers in shouting them down on every negotiating position advanced, to the backstabbing in Papua New Guinea running parallel negotiations with the EU to cut deals and preference separate from the Pacific countries, hard and tough lessons were learned. Yep, many of our trade negotiators walked away bruised, exhausted and perhaps with greater awareness that there are no friends in trade.
Quite recently, one senior Pacific trade official commented, “When Africa sneezes, the Pacific catches the cold.” Why? Because the only interest in the Economic Partnership Agreements between the African Caribbean Pacific regions is Africa.
Now, three years on, one apparent fact remains, the Pacific is eating the scraps of Africa’s progress. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has over the years engaged with Africa with the hope to advance similar positions.
Built on friendships and contacts, positions flowed freely into the Pacific for the region to keep themselves abreast of the gains of Africa and more importantly, use them for the negotiations.
Of course, not everything that flowed from the Motherland was good for the Pacific, so quality control measures ensured the Pacific position was upheld.
Their EPA negotiations have demonstrated major improvements from previous interim texts where the obligations were counterproductive to export and trade policies of the Pacific.
The lesson was simple, if you’ve got more resources, then we will cut deals with you.
Can we expect anything different from PACER Plus? If you’ve got more resources, Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) will cut a deal with you. So let’s look into the region and see who has more resources and who ANZ will cut a deal with. The obvious suspect is Papua New Guinea, the land of the unexpected as they say. Well it’s becoming more expected now.
They’ve got money falling out of their ears from gas, rocks, fish and lumber. Yep it’s all boom, boom, boom and contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the sound of gun-toting raskols holding up a bank but the stampede of Australians running across Torres Strait to cash in.
So for the past two years, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her predecessor being the leaders they are, needed to fix a deal with the black fellas up north so the Blokes and Sheilas can vote them back in. They’ve sent officials, high commissioners and almost every public servant in Canberra to PNG to ensure there is a magical yellow brick road from Australia to PNG. Where there are no tariffs, no burdensome non tariff barriers like sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical standards, no trade in services restrictions, visa requirements, no capital movement restrictions and of course the best part, no taxes to pay. Yep, the Blokes and Sheilas have got it all. It’s all ozzie ozzie, oi oi oi in the land of the unexpected. Don’t you love a public service that can deliver to its people?
What about Papua New Guineans trying to come the other way of the yellow brick road? No, they need to comply with complicated market access arrangements such as burdensome Rules of Origin arrangements, tons of paper work on quarantine, don’t forget the qualifications part, our lawyers, doctors, accountants can’t work there because they’re not qualified. Oh and the visa requirements, well you can forget that, stand in line like everyone else.
So when Minister Sam Abal met his former Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith in Alotau in July this year on PNG not wanting less aid and more trade, he should have pushed for an agreement to reflect the wishes of Papua New Guinea. Our wantoks must walk on that yellow brick road with the same deal. Ok, so Stephen’s old mate Simon Crean said it’s all about development and no one will get smashed. Don’t forget Stephen’s old boss Kevin Rudd also told all Pacific Leaders in Cairns, no one will be worst off. And even Misa Telefoni from Samoa who is preaching PACER Plus is subjecting Samoans to eat Australian meat pies and vegemite as they have comparative advantage on their local palusami.
We’ve all heard this before – that’s right from some guys in Europe call Louis Michel, former Commissioner for Development and his boss, Jose Manuel Borroso. But at least for the cultured Europeans, they made it look cool by saying “we are generous but not naïve.” That was before they massacred us at Centra Brochette.
I have no doubt Sam’s chat with Stephen will set in motion a trade relationship that PNG will negotiate a trade agreement bilaterally with Australia. But what about the outcomes of the Forum Trade Ministers in Pohnpei in April this year? What about the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser that will be developing a regional trade pact with all forum countries negotiating collectively with ANZ? Well, that was all for a show – gotta tell these backward islanders we’re one big family.
These developments remind me of a piece of history in a far away land called Matabeleland Kingdom, which has one of the richest gold deposits in the world. Facing growing pressure from hungry land-grabbing Boers, adventurous Englishman and superpowers cutting up Africa, King Lobengula sent emissaries to London to get guidance from Her Majesty Queen Victoria, on why they, in particular Mr Cecil Rhode’s British South Africa Company Agreement is good for his country.
After gauging wise counsel from her advisers, she wrote a truthful letter that the contract Mr Rhodes was pushing for will destroy his kingdom as all minerals, land, trade, and every other possible international relationships will be under the exclusive rights of Mr Rhode’s company. She explicitly wrote and advised to not enter into the contract. A couple of months later after Mr Rhodes effectively bribed the entire political system, she rescinded the advice. King Lobengula told his advisers, “This woman speaks with two tongues.” A couple of months later, Matabeleland was conquered by mercenaries and Rhode’s company raped and pillaged the land for the next 100 years.
Pacific’s Matabeleland is indeed PNG. As they forge to run deals with a superpower, they are binding their people to live in a relationship with Australia for eternity. The PACER Plus contract may not be as controversial as the Rhodes one, but it is potentially just as poisonous. Canberra will speak in various tongues to seasoned WTO and EPA PNG negotiators. PNG trade officials will no doubt try their best to fight for their wantoks so that when they want to walk on that yellow brick road from PNG to Australia, they are free to trade. Past experiences will also show wannabe trade gurus will find some excuse to be in the frontline to negotiate. Thinking they are the voice of the people, they will push agendas that Kanage, Agnes and Mr Roots will suffer. Why, because the interest they push is not in their interest but of Australia and New Zealand.
But the most destructive result in all this is that PNG will set the bar for the rest of the Pacific. That’s right, the framework for PACER PLUS will be determined in Port Moresby because PNG has a whole lot more resources than any other Pacific Island country and the blokes and Sheilas want to be part of it. So it’s up to PNG. Will you lead the region and champion the cause or cut the deal of a lifetime so that Canberra gives you more. Gee, I wonder what option the Lubengula’s of PNG will opt for?
This is an opinion piece by PACNEWS. Any comment or contribution, send to pacnews1@pina.com.fj


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