Government criticised over PACER+ deal but stays mum

The Executive Director for Ole Siosiomaga Samoa Society Incorporated has criticised Samoa for ratifying the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (P.A.C.E.R. Plus) free trade agreement.

In emailed comments, Executive Director Fiu Mataese Elisara said: “Despite our many past presentations and write-ups cautioning against this free trade agreement P.A.C.E.R+, Samoa has nevertheless proceeded to ratify it.

“Time will tell but it will come back to haunt the Government in the future in terms of disappointments after some two decades of negotiations."

New Zealand's Trade Minister, David Parker, this week said Samoa had completed its ratification of the agreement to make it the first Pacific Islands government other than Australia or New Zealand to do so. 

Mr Parker said he hoped Samoa's decision "show[ed] the way for other Pacific signatories".

Samoa's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.) have not issued any statement about the ratification, and did not respond to questions from the Samoa Observer as at press time last night.  

But Fiu reiterated criticism that the agreement is too generous to the economies of its largest signatories - Australia and New Zealand - with Pacific signatories receiving false hope of entry into larger labour markets. 

“When Fiji and Papua New Guinea, who generate more than five times of the Pacific regional annual trade refused to sign P+, something is not right," he said.

"This P+ fails the Pacific and Samoa’s expectations on goods and services, on rules of origin, on development assistance, on investment assistance, on labour mobility, on jobs, on local capacity development.

“Despite [...] some benefits through the schemes of Recognised Seasonal Employers in New Zealand and Seasonal Workers Programme in Australia legalising these schemes continue to be ignored by Australia and New Zealand."

Australia, New Zealand and nine Pacific Island countries, including Samoa signed the agreement in Nukualofa, Tonga in June last year and were given two years to prepare before ratifying P.A.C.E.R. Plus.  

The agreement comes into force 60 days after at least eight of the eleven signatories have ratified.

Fiu also questioned the need for PACER+ since the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (S.P.A.R.T.E.C.A.) gives Samoa and other Pacific countries “duty free” and “quota free” access to Australia and New Zealand markets. 

“The loss of national policy space and sovereignty to take decisions to recover after natural and economic disasters made worse by strict rules on subsidies will tie future Samoan governments to less[er] response actions,” Fiu said. 

“This is not a good decision indeed for Samoa - Ole upu ale Atunu'u – ‘A sese le tu'ugamau, e fa'asoesa le Aitu’ - we need to be that ghost that never rests in our common but differentiated responsibilities to get our Government as servants of our people to do the right thing as expected by their masters.”

The M.F.A.T. did not respond to questions sent by this newspaper at the time of going to press last night. 

However, last year, the Ministry's C.E.O. Nella Tavita-Levy said rules of the P.A.C.E.R. Plus are more flexible than S.P.A.R.T.E.C.A.

“Under the P.A.C.E.R. Plus agreement, Australia and New Zealand will reduce their duty to zero on eligible products from P.A.C.E.R. Plus countries on the first day the agreement comes into force, Samoa doesn’t have to, which is sort of a preferential arrangement,” Mrs. Tavita-Levy told the Samoa Observer in an earlier interview. 

“For Samoa, we’ve been given I think 20 years to slowly reduce the duty of only 80 percent of the products, the other 20 percent there will be no change in duties".

Products that make up the 20 percent include alcohol, tobacco, most products that have high revenue from Customs Duty and locally produced products, which Nella says allow local producers to remain competitive.  

“Under the P.A.C.E.R. Plus, Australia and New Zealand have also committed to have dedicated officers for the Pacific to support them to meet the standards of their products when it comes to New Zealand and Australia," she said. 

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