February 2021 marks the first anniversary of the endorsement of the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy (PAfTS 2020-2025). It was not the first strategy of its type for Pacific regionalism. Clearly, it is too early to make any meaningful assessment of its implementation. I will leave that for later. The occasion, however, should not go to waste. Any anniversary is propitious for strategic reflection. I propose, therefore, to cast an evaluative eye on two aspects of the Strategy – its long and eventful gestation period, and design: and draw out useful learnings that can be incorporated into the 2050 Strategy for Pacific regionalism.
The Strategy was endorsed by Forum Trade Ministers at their meeting (FTMM) in Suva on 3 February 2020. The idea for the formulation of the Strategy was conceived on 11 July 2018 at a Senior Trade Officials meeting during the Pacific ACP (PACP) Trade Officials meeting in Apia. The Strategy had been two years in the making.
The conception of the idea of an Aid for Trade (AfT) strategy during a PACP Trade officials meeting is instructive. The same officials were engaged in the formulation of a first AfT strategy during the time of the negotiations with the EU for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The EPA negotiations were suspended, and regional geopolitics may have intervened. This led to the rejection of the first strategy, 12 years ago in 2009.
The EU resources earmarked for that were mothballed. Some, if not all, will be recycled to fund the newly endorsed Strategy. The Regional Authorising Officers (RAO) for the PACP states met representatives of the EU in the margins of the 2020 FTMM to sign €94 million AfT financing agreements.
The rejection of the first AfT strategy in 2009 also marked the launching of the PACER Plus negotiations and by the time the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed in 2017, Australia and New Zealand had committed themselves to earmarking millions of dollars for AfT under that agreement. These AfT resources under PACER Plus are currently being disbursed under the extended Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA Plus) launched on 11 April 2019.
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