Greens Senator Asks Questions on PACER-Plus

Senator Lee Rhiannon asked some interesting questions of officials during Senate estimates on 16 February 2012 to try to clarify Australia’s position relative to negotiations underway between the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and the European Union.

Senator RHIANNON: Is the government planning to seek a binding and compulsory most favoured nation commitment in the PACER Plus negotiations?

Ms Rawson: As I think we have said before in this committee, the primary objective is the promotion of the sustainable economic development of the forum island countries. It is expected that that agreement would be WTO consistent. Perhaps those with greater knowledge of the particular trade issues than I have could comment on the MFN aspect but certainly we would be aiming to negotiate an agreement that is WTO consistent.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there anybody else who can comment on the MFN possible aspects of PACER Plus?

Mr Gosper: As Ms Rawson has said, in this negotiation we are very much guided of course by both how we might negotiate something which is consistent with the rules that apply to such agreements but also something that will aid the Pacific countries. So the question of whether this agreement proceeds, at what pace it proceeds and whether it actually proceeds to conclusion is very much in the hands of the Pacific countries themselves. If it were to come to conclusion, then of course there would have to be an appropriate element of MFN provided by those countries but there are various ways of course to ensure that particular sensitivities of such countries are protected through phasings or even, in a limited sense, exclusions. But again it is very much in the hands of the Pacific countries.

Senator RHIANNON: As I understand it, one of the requirements is to protect Australian business interests and investments from being disadvantaged. To achieve that, would you not have to go for an MFN commitment?

Mr Gosper: There is an element of the reality that the Pacific countries have negotiated certain concessions with the European Union which would involve tariff concessions and it may well be that that could potentially at some point lead Australian businesses to some disadvantage and that is of course something that the government will have to take account of. But of course the government's primary consideration is to promote the economic development of the Pacific countries, and that is very much the guiding approach to these negotiations.

Senator RHIANNON: There does seem to be a contradiction there. When are you looking after Australia's commercial interests-which I understand is not a key imperative here, but you are saying it is up to the Pacific countries? There appears to be a contradiction there. I maybe wrong, but I would just like that clarified.

Mr Gosper: My point is that it may well be that some Australian businesses are disadvantaged in some of these countries for some products, but Australia has a particular national interest in securing the economic development of this region and we are not looking to foist onto such countries agreements that they find unhelpful or destabilising.

For copy of the transcript follow this link