Rethink Pacer Deal, Tavola Tells Aust,NZ

Negotiations on PACER Plus began in 2009 but have proved difficult because Australia and New Zealand have not been willing to make commitments on labour mobility and aid in return
25 Apr 2015 09:51
Rethink Pacer Deal, Tavola Tells Aust,NZ

Negotiations on PACER Plus began in 2009 but have proved difficult because Australia and New Zealand have not been willing to make commitments on labour mobility and aid in return for the better access their goods and services will receive to Pacific Island nations.

Goods from the Pacific already receive duty-free and quota-free access to Australia under an earlier agreement.

Former Fijian Foreign Minister and regional trade negotiator Kalipate Tavola has spelled out his concerns, saying the Australian and New Zealand stance lacks flexilbility and is causing division.


Presenter: Jemima Garrett


Speaker: Kaliopate Tavola, former regional trade negotiator and former foreign minister of Fiji


TAVOLA: There was a statement from Fiji’s minister of trade that PACER Plus is unbalanced. The PANG (Pacific Network on Globalisation) and the NGOs have made their statement and I think they are placing a restraining order on PACER Plus, a tabu for instance, so I thought I would contribute to the discussions to help a way forward.


GARRETT: The lack of willingness of Australia and New Zealand to make commitments on labour mobility and aid is one problem, but there are other sticking points in the negotiations. Can you explain what they are?


TAVOLA: Well, when you look at some of the technical issues – ‘pre-establishment’ and ‘national treatment’ for instance, when you look at ‘infant industry’, the application of the ‘Most Favoured Nation (MFN)’. To me they are typical of the divide that arises when a group of developed countries negotiate a free trade area agreement with developing countries. I mean, you see this happening all the time at the bi-lateral level, at the regional level and even at the multi-lateral level. So there is obviously a divide and what I wanted to say is that part of the Australia New Zealand stance is obviously based on their applications of the World Trade Organisation agreement. Tthere doesn’t seem to be any flexibility or any application the special and differential treatment that should apply in a situation like this.

So I am putting forward some proposals for Australia-NZ to consider to soften their approach on some of these issues. They are committed to these issues as far as the WTO is concerned. I think we are here negotiating with a group of developed countries as against the Pacific Islands Forum island countries and some of the smallest countries in the world, and I think the stance that Australia and New Zealand should take is a lot more softer approach and to try to understand where the Forum island countries are coming from and help them to promote growth regionally. I think that is the objective of the whole thing, but perhaps a refinement of the approach that will help us achieve what we want to do.


GARRETT: Australia in particular is already in trouble with the region due to its stance on climate change and its dispute with Fiji over the Pacific Islands Forum. If Australia and New Zealand don’t soften their approach, are they risking their long-term standing in the region?


TAVOLA: Well, there is always that fear. And the fear is not a new one, it has been there for a while and that’s what led to the proposed meeting that was supposed to have been held in Sydney in February. The status of that meeting is up in the air for the time being. Yes, there is that fear so what I am proposing is really a way forward for Australia and New Zealand just to stop a while and reconsider their position and that will obviously remove the fear that Fiji has, for instance, that PACER Plus is unbalanced and if Australia and New Zealand change tack in their way of negotiating then that would certainly bring Fiji back completely in the fold with PACER Plus negotiations. The PANG and the NGOs will be a lot more happier because some of the softer approaches to trade are being incorporated into PACER Plus, and some acceptance of the labour mobility, for instance, going forward and obviously the developmental resources, that needs to be resolved.

GARRETT: The next negotiating session for PACER Plus is coming up very shortly in the first week of May. Does Australia and New Zealand need to act before then?

TAVOLA: it is getting to be a critical time, uh! We have been negotiating now for what, 6 years? From what we read there are a lot of divisive issues that still exist and a lot of people are unhappy, so if we want to resolve this matter quickly then we need to change some of our attitude going into that meeting. I think it is scheduled for very soon in Port Vila.




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