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Crean spruiks free trade in Pacific

The Age, Melbourne

Crean spruiks free trade in Pacific

28 February 2008

The tiny island nations of the south Pacific should have high ambitions heading into free trade negotiations with Australia, Trade Minister Simon Crean says.

Mr Crean said nations like Fiji and Vanuatu had nothing to fear despite concerns any deal would lean heavily in favour of the Pacific powerhouses New Zealand and Australia.

No firm date has yet been set for the start of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) negotiations.

"The opportunity is emerging to bring the development and economic integration benefits of trade liberalisation to our Pacific neighbours through the ’PACER Plus’ discussions on a new and comprehensive free trade agreement between ourselves and New Zealand and Pacific island countries," Mr Crean said in a speech to the Lowy Institute.

A report by the Washington DC-based Nathan Associates says some of the island nations could lose as much as $US10 million ($A10.6 million) in annual revenue if tariff walls are knocked down by PACER.

"The success of the trans-Tasman closer economic relations (CER) experiment should encourage us to set high shared ambitions for boosting island countries’ trade opportunities in very practical ways," Mr Crean said.

"Given our responsibilities in the region, it is incumbent on Australia and New Zealand - the CER side of the discussions - to do everything we can to make these talks succeed."

Mr Crean admitted he and New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff would need to do some hard work persuading the Pacific nations of the benefits of trade liberalisation.

"A key element of this will be our spelling out clearly and persuasively why stronger trade links and their quantifiable benefits are vital to the Pacific region’s future prosperity," Mr Crean said.

"It will take time to lay the groundwork in capacity-building and structural adjustments so that island countries - with very diverse trading interests - are all in a position to benefit from such a process.

"But unless we start, and start with vision, Pacific island countries will continue to fall behind other developing countries and regions and miss out on the brighter future to which their people rightly aspire."

© 2008 AAP