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Pacific Churches, And Pacific Trade Watchdog, Release Report On Australian And NZ Bullying

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Today the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches has released a report documenting the use of 'power politics' by the Australian and New Zealand governments to push Pacific island countries to launch free trade negotiations at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting in Cairns next week.

Trade officials from Australia and New Zealand have held informal discussions with their counterparts from the Pacific islands over the past 14 months, with a view to extending the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations to a new free trade deal (PACER-Plus).

General Secretary for the Pacific Conference of Churches, Fei Tevi, today said that while these discussions were being held, the island countries had faced concerted pressure from Australia and New Zealand to launch free trade negotiations well before they were ready.

He said the trading relationship between the Pacific island countries and Australia and New Zealand "should be based on justice, and should enhance social development in the Pacific".

"Unfortunately Australia and New Zealand have taken advantage of the fact that there is no clear rulebook for trade negotiations, and have pushed the region to launch free trade negotiations on terms that reflect their own political and economic priorities," said Mr Tevi.

"This report puts them on notice that we are watching closely, and that any 'backroom pressure' of the Island countries will be resisted." The report (entitled Speaking Truth to Power - Australian and New Zealand use of power politics to launch Pacific free trade negotiations) was produced by the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG).

PANG coordinator Maureen Penjueli said the report exposed the often secret world of regional trade discussions - where meetings between Pacific government officials and their Australian and New Zealand counterparts are held 'behind closed doors'.

She said the Australian and New Zealand officials had used this 'secret environment' to push Pacific countries to launch PACER-Plus four years ahead of schedule, and before the Pacific governments have established an Office they hope will guide the Islands through complex negotiations with their largest trading partners.

Ms Penjueli said one way the island countries might "redress the compromises they have been bullied into during the PACER-Plus process so far" would be to support Fiji 's call for a moratorium on any decisions under PACER until consultations over its unlawful exclusion from the trade talks have produced a satisfactory outcome.

"Pacific island countries should use this opportunity to renegotiate the terms of the regional Office of the Chief Trade Advisor and the timeline for negotiations (contained in the Joint PACER-Plus Roadmap) to seek better outcomes for the Pacific," said Ms Penjueli.

"It may be a high-risk strategy, but then so too is a free trade agreement negotiated on terms dictated by Australia and New Zealand ." This week a Diplomatic Note from the Solomon Islands Trade Minister, William Haomae, was circulated by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to all governments party to the original PACER agreement.

That note indicated that the Solomon Islands government supports Fiji 's call for consultations to be held among all PACER parties to discuss Fiji 's exclusion from PACER related discussions.

The Diplomatic Note further indicated that the "Solomon Islands would like to register its support for Fiji's suggestion that the spirit of approaching such consultations in good faith requires that there be no discussion of PACER matters by Parties until consultations can be brought to a mutually satisfactory conclusion". Ms Penjueli said the note from Trade Minister Hoamae meant Pacific Leaders should refrain from launching PACER-Plus negotiations in Cairns .

"Now is the time to step back and consider the issues relating to possible free trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand in the absence of arbitrary timelines," said Ms Penjueli.

"The need to launch negotiations in August is only an Australian political consideration - it has nothing to do with development in the Pacific." Speaking Truth to Power documents veiled and overt threats by the Australian and New Zealand governments - directed at Pacific trade officials (and even Ministers) to secure a launch of PACER-Plus negotiations when Australia hosts the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting in Cairns next week.

The report also highlights attempts by Australia and New Zealand to control studies relating to PACER-Plus, and the training of Pacific officials who will take part in PACER-Plus negotiations.

The report draws widely on public announcements, media reports, internal briefing notes, confidential reports and interviews with trade officials from across the Pacific (many of whom have asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal). PACER-Plus will have considerable commercial benefit for Australia and New Zealand .

Any gains to the Pacific are likely to be much smaller, and PACER-Plus entails considerable risks for Pacific countries - including government revenue losses, business closures, job losses and a reduction in policy space. An e-copy of the report; Speaking Truth to Power: Australian and New Zealand use of power politics to launch Pacific free trade negotiations is available now.


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