Trade watchdog warns of agreement's implications

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 09 September 2020, 2:00PM

A regional trade watchdog has cautioned Samoa of the implications of its decision to accede to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations [P.A.C.E.R.] Plus.

The Suva-based Pacific Network on Globalisation [P.A.N.G.] has been at the forefront of criticism of the regional trade agreement in recent years, and in response to questions from the Samoa Observer, says the country did not need to become a signatory in order to continue to have market access or development funding from Australia and New Zealand.

According to P.A.N.G. Campaigner, Adam Wolfenden, the trade agreement offers no new market access or development funding for Samoa and further claimed that the trade deal was used by the region’s largest economies Australia and New Zealand to reduce competition within the island economies.

“P.A.C.E.R. Plus offers no new market access or development funding for Samoa yet commits them to offering ever more market access for Australian and New Zealand goods, service exporters and investors to Samoan markets,” he said.

“There is no additional funding for development assistance which will be drawn from existing and future aid budgets.

“Samoa already has duty free quota free market access to Australian and New Zealand markets so a new trade deal won't offer any additional benefits.

“However, there can be issues meeting the high quarantine standards for agricultural produce, rules around value addition or more general challenges, such as lack of infrastructure and high costs of transit.

“Pursuing a standard free trade deal only offers Samoa further restrictions on how the Government can intervene in supporting Samoa's economy.”

Currently, an Australian Parliamentary Committee is examining the conditions necessary to promote greater trade and investment with the Pacific Islands, which can benefit Australia and the Pacific. 

But the P.A.N.G. Coordinator, Maureen Penjueli, recently told the Australian Parliamentary Committee to rethink its current approach to trade and investment within the Pacific Islands and to instead promote genuine avenues for development, reports Matangi Tonga.

Mr Wolfenden echoed similar sentiments in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“Australia should not continue to pursue an agreement that will provide short-term benefits to their exporters whilst long-term undermining the economic sovereignty of the Pacific.

“Australia should look to supporting Pacific exports into their markets as well as ensuring that the rich, resilient traditional systems of the Pacific aren't undermined by free trade agreements.”

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade describes the PACER Plus as a "regional development-centred trade agreement", covering goods, services and investment. Negotiations on the regional trade agreement started in 2009 and concluded in Brisbane April 2017. 

It opened for signatures June 2017 and has already been signed by Australia, New Zealand and nine Pacific island countries – Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and Samoa.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the region's largest economies, have chosen not to sign the P.A.C.E.R. Plus agreement.

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 09 September 2020, 2:00PM

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