Mystery deepens on Government's silence over PACER Plus

As Samoa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade declines to confirm whether it has ratified the controversial regional trade deal PACER Plus, a UN expert has queried the Samoan Government's silence.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.) has not responded to questions about the legal status of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (P.A.C.E.R. Plus) for close to a week. 

That is even as Australia and New Zealand - the agreement's two biggest signatories - suggest that the agreement has been passed into law by Samoa. 

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's Samoan Regional Coordinator, Dr. Patrick Goettner, said he has not received confirmation that the work required to ratify the agreement had been completed, including transparency provisions. 

“Usually the Government of Samoa would release an official statement but I haven’t seen one yet,” Dr. Goettner said.

Dr. Goettner said the trade legislation database has still not been compiled and uploaded, and the required procedures are still being verified.

Carrying comments from the New Zealand Trade Minister last week, Radio New Zealand reported that Samoa had been the first nation to ratify the regional trade agreement. 

The New Zealand government stated Samoa had notified Tonga that it has completed its domestic procedures to ratify the agreement, which takes effect once a further five signatories sign it into law. 

Adding to the mystery, Australia's foreign affairs department has recently updated its website to list Samoa as a ratifying country despite not officially releasing a statement. 

But New Zealand has been more forthcoming, with Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker congratulating Samoa in an official statement earlier this month. 

“I welcome the ratification of more Pacific signatories in coming months as we approach the Pacific Islands Forum in August in Tuvalu," Minister Parker said. 

Dr. Goettner said: “The government had a certain idea with releasing that note and notifying Tonga, so they are the best to tell what exactly the idea behind it was.

“I think they want to show they are committed which is good and could be the base for us to work on that but that is what I would suspect but I don’t know.”

Hammered out over two decades' of negotiation, P.A.C.E.R. Plus has been a controversial issue with critics suggesting that signing up for the deal would expose smaller nations' economies and bring them only marginal access to larger markets in Australia and New Zealand. 

The Executive Director for Ole Siosiomaga Samoa Society Incorporated criticised the Samoa Government when New Zealand hailed its apparent ratification.

“This is not a good decision indeed for Samoa," said Fiu Mataese Elisara who added the agreement would “come back to haunt the Government".

“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.

Papua New Guinea and Fiji, the two largest Pacific Island economies who are involved in negotiations have not ratified the agreement and are in ongoing discussions with Australia and New Zealand.

Fiji is undergoing an assessment of the agreement. In May, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said he is still concerned about the loss of tariffs revenue on products.

“Any Australia and New Zealand product that comes into Fiji, will be allowed duty-free,” he said.

“We do export to Australia and New Zealand, but the balance of trade is not that high, it’s not in our favour, so obviously out tariff revenue will completely go. 

“So the revenue collection for the government will completely go, this government, next government, 20 years’ time.”

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.

Dr. Goettner said the U.N. will continue to work with Samoa, adapting their work programs to suit what the country needs in order to proceed with PACER Plus.

“I hope that M.F.A.T. is releasing something official, then it is easy for everybody,” he said.

“We are happy if they are ready on the finalisation and to move ahead with the ratification, with the entry into force, that is the whole idea.”

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