14 Pacific Island Countries have been locked in six year negotiations with Australia and New Zealand over PACER Plus (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations).
The Governor of Oro in Papua New Guinea, Gary Juffa, a strong critic of PACER Plus told PACNEWS in Suva that Pacific Island Parties have been taken for a ride by Australia and New Zealand, as revealed in the leaked negotiating text on ‘development and economic co-operation’ published on the PINA website.
“As I have said before, the PACER Plus agreement is a scam constructed by very powerful organisations and corporations that are going to benefit from such an agreement. What will happen is that they will have access to our markets, our jobs, concessions and other opportunities that go with any development projects in our countries. Not only that, they will want us to say yes to everything that they want to do and operate with irresponsible impunity in our economies, things that they will not get away with in their economies, said Juffa.
The leaked text, according to the Australian Greens Party has proved that Australia was using its aid programme to buy off the Pacific’s commitments, while offering weak voluntary commitments and demanding market access for Australian companies.
He said if PACER Plus is allowed to come into force, Australia and New Zealand will not give small island nations of the Pacific any trade-off.
“They are not saying we are going to look at our quarantine, health regulatory laws, subsidies to our farmers etc. Instead they are asking us to open our doors to them, which will make it impossible for Pacific Island nations to trade with these countries.
Juffa questioned the ‘secrecy’ and ‘behind closed doors’ negotiations.
“Why the secrecy and lack of transparency and who does all these negotiations on behalf of all our governments, questioned Juffa.
He said Pacific Island Countries need to assert their right to protect their products and industries that will be severely affected if PACER Plus come into effect.
“The problem is region wide. The people who are involved in the negotiations often have no idea about trade negotiations. The countries that are driving this are negotiating not on behalf of their economies but on behalf of the giant corporations that are designing these policies for them to drive.
“They are well versed in what is going on and are ready to negotiate. The people that we put forward sometimes have zero idea of the agenda of the big multinational corporations who are behind the policies being pushed into the trade agreements. Some of them are replaced within months or are transferred within governments leaving no information for those that continue the negotiations to understand the ramifications of signing up to the trade agreement.
Juffa said the region should not rely on the advice of the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA) based in Port Vila, Vanuatu. OCTA, he said is already compromised because it is jointly funded by Australia and New Zealand.
“If the region really wants to negotiate trade in such way that would benefit the region, they should come together and fund their own trade negotiations office – not OCTA. They need an independent organisation that they can control and put in experts, like lawyers, trade specialists, economists, who can ask and respond to real questions like - how will this agreement affect a person in the village, the economy, government, industries, jobs, and manufacturing industries etc.
“When you fund something, then you have ownership and control over what you do. In this case it is funded by someone else and the region has no control over what the end outcome will be.
Sadly, under the current arrangement, Pacific Island negotiators are being used to agree to the agreement, said Juffa.
“If we agree to it, all our little companies that are generating employment and revenue back into the local economies will dry up and die because our banking laws are so weak throughout the region. All these giant corporations that will infiltrate our economies will funnel their funds offshore for their benefit.
At the recent Pacific Forum Leaders meeting in Papua New Guinea, Leaders noted that negotiations on most chapters of the proposed PACER Plus are close to conclusion, recognising the positive engagements and flexibility shown by all Parties. Noting the substantive progress made, Leaders called for the conclusion of trade and investment agreement by June next year.