PACER-plus trade deal without PNG and Fiji a bad deal

3 May 2017: The PACER-plus agreement between Australia, New Zealand and 12 Pacific Island countries was finalised in Brisbane in April 2017, but without Papua New Guinea and Fiji,  the Pacific’s two largest island economies. Both governments have said the agreement threatens their infant industries and would not benefit their economies.

AFTINET said the absence of PNG and Fiji shows that PACER-Plus has failed as a regional agreement. Yet the Australian Government wants to proceed with signing the deal, which is likely to occur in June.

The Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) has published a People’s Guide to PACER-Plus, aiming to explain the agreement and its impacts on the Pacific in accessible language.

PANG Coordinator Ms Maureen Penjueli said it was crucial that every Pacific Islander can understand how the deal will affect them.

“Trade deals are negotiated in secret and are often full of legal jargon that makes them completely inaccessible to governments, parliaments and ordinary people attempting to understand what they mean in practice. This Guide is a way to change that,” she said.

Earlier this month, AFTINET wrote a letter to Trade Minister Ciobo urging Australia not to proceed with signing the PACER-plus trade deal, arguing that PNG and Fiji’s unwillingness to participate demonstrated that the agreement is heavily skewed towards the interests of Australia and New Zealand.

Many of the smaller economies in the Pacific have less negotiating power than Fiji and PNG. AFTINET is concerned that Australia and New Zealand may have used pressure tactics to push vulnerable Pacific economies into a deal which ultimately may not benefit them.

Pacific island countries already have tariff free access for their goods in Australia. The main purpose of PACER-plus is to reduce tariffs on Pacific island imports and reduce the ability of governments to regulate foreign investment in services and other sectors.

Tariff reductions could lead to significant revenue losses for smaller Pacific Islands, and it is unclear how these losses can be offset. This could impact on the ability of these governments to provide essential services to their populations.

Trade in services rules could also reduce the ability of governments to regulate to provide equitable access to essential services for vulnerable populations.

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