Asia Pacific Report | 31 August 2016
PACER Plus not final – PNG says no, Fiji lukewarm, Vanuatu undecided
By Bob Makin in Port Vila
Some eight years of negotiations on the legal texts have gone into deciding what the Pacific free trade agreement would comprise.
The last day of such discussions was on Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The whole idea, with the best of intentions of all the island states and the two big wealthy countries, Australia and New Zealand, has been to create jobs, raise standards of living and encourage sustainable economic development in the island countries.
Trade ministers from all the island members of the Pacific Islands Forum have been discussing final texts and where their talks have reached politically.
There is no agreement as yet. And there is an interesting point of view from Vanuatu.
A petition calling for suspension of any decision until there was more worker representation arrived at last week’s New Zealand conference of ministers and officials.
Lack of worker representation was expressed. And prior to that Papua New Guinea declared its withdrawal from the agreement.
Fiji was still expressing reservations leading up to the final conference.
Vanuatu wants all of the government MPs to view the whole text before it decides whether to join or not.
A Council of Ministers’ decision a fortnight ago said exactly that when chief negotiator Sumbue Antas released drafts of some of the texts to government MPs at that time.
This is the position as described by Lands Minister Regenvanu on Tanna last week.
In the past, government MPs have never seen the texts of these trade details before they are signed by trade officials, and then the minister responsible.
They are then just obliged to vote on them in Parliament, without actually seeing them in full first of all.
A similar situation occurred when there was an outcry and the “Say No to the WTO” posters of nearly 10 years ago.
This was when the likelihood of Vanuatu joining the World Trade Organisation had reached the eleventh hour.
Ill-informed legislation can lead to problems within a country and political movements.
MP Ralph Regenvanu voted against the WTO accession and that led to his being removed from government at that time.
The Council of Ministers is now getting big issues like this one, PACER-Plus, better into perspective.
Elected MPs will actually have the advantage of seeing what they are voting on first of all: the full text, and in writing. They will know it all before they vote on it.
And those who haven’t paid much attention to what PACER-Plus really is should get to know a lot more about it now.
The negotiations are said to offer an opportunity to help Pacific Islands Forum countries benefit from enhanced regional trade and economic integration.