SUVA, 14 SEPTEMBER 2016 (PACNEWS) — The Pacific island countries needs to have a proper understanding of all the impacts of PACER-Plus before signing on to any legally binding free trade agreement that seeks to constrain governments ability to regulate.
Negotiated in secret, Papua New Guinea’s Oro Governor, Gary Juffa, says the Pacific island countries cannot afford to commit to PACER-Plus without fully understanding the impacts in respective island economies.
“Now that the legal text has been agreed to by Trade Ministers it is prudent that Pacific Island countries conduct an independent impact assessment on the final legal text to appreciate the full extent of impacts,” said Governor Juffa.
“The recently commissioned report based on analysis of leaked text titled “Defending Pacific Ways of Life: A Peoples Social Impact Assessment” found there are risks that PACER-Plus will have on our health systems, right to food, infant industries, skilled labour, and government policy spaces amongst others.”
“This report highlights the need to have comprehensive assessments to ensure that the Pacific properly understands what it is agreeing to,” he said.
“PACER-Plus is similar to any other free trade agreement, and there are a lot of risks that Pacific Island countries will be opening up their economies to, without adequate safeguards or protections” continued Governor Juffa.
Juffa said the continued inability of the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA) to deal with the legitimate concerns of PNG and Fiji and to consistently defend Australia and New Zealand’s positions in relation to flexibilities demonstrates a failure of the secretariat to heed to any positions that don’t suit the narrative being pushed by the OCTA, Australia and New Zealand.
He stressed for island nations to take the advice from OCTA with a pinch of salt and source alternative advice like the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Geneva based South Centre who are set up specifically to assist developing countries.
Governor Juffa commended the PNG Government for deciding to withdraw its participation from PACER-Plus based on independent assessments, adding that PNG can gain a lot more through a bilateral agreement rather than signing up to a regional legal binding.
Meanwhile, PNG Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill confirmed his country’s position at the 47th Pacific Islands Leaders Forum in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), telling other regional leaders that PNG will not be engaging in any PACER-Plus related talks.
Fiji has also withdrawn while Vanuatu will be assessing and reviewing the agreement to date.
All of these measures by the three Melanesian countries demonstrates prudent policy making which seeks to protect how a country uses trade to develop rather than subscribing to whole sale opening up of markets.