I wrote: ‘Re-Negotiated PACER Plus for Post-Covid-19 Pacific Regionalism’ for the July 2020 Island Business issue. This was pitched particularly at strengthening Pacific regionalism (Pacific Islands Forum) as a means of a counterweight to what had appeared at the time as increasing threats to globalism. Moreover, strong regionalism is an effective collective means to multilateralism for PIF members, especially for the Forum Island Countries.
I opted for re-negotiating PACER Plus for three reasons. Firstly, the trade agreement was not being implemented at the time: its ratification target had not been reached. Secondly, Fiji was still engaged in its bilateral negotiations with Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), in the margins, in the hope of improving certain provisions of the then-agreed texts. Thirdly, I was and still am convinced that the agreement is likely to strengthen desired economic integration in the region. This would be so especially if it was to be extended to include the two biggest Melanesian traders of Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
I suggested then some ideas that could be considered for re-negotiating some provisions of the agreement that could convince the two Melanesian traders to sign onto the agreement.
Twelve months on, the situation has changed somewhat. COVID-19 still rages on. And the main threat to globalism seemed to have vanished together with the Trump administration in the US. Even the anti-globalism rhetoric of the Australian government has cooled. Stephen Dziedzic of ABC wrote last July: “The PM’s ‘negative globalism’ speech seems to have rapidly receding into the distance in the era of COVID-19. Australian Ambassador to the UN Mitch Fifield says while the Organization is ‘far from perfect’ it is nonetheless ‘indispensable’”.
Furthermore, PACER Plus itself has been ratified sufficiently to trigger the implementation phase. A PACER Plus Implementation Unit (PPIU) has been established and is operating out of Samoa. The Head of the Unit also doubles as Trade and Development Adviser who reports to the PACER Plus Joint Committee (PPJC).
Moreover, Fiji’s bilateral negotiations with Australia and New Zealand seem to have run out of steam.
The above events, preceding my July 2020 article, may appear to invalidate the argument for re-negotiating PACER Plus. Such invalidation is only partial. The third reason I proffered above: the need to strengthen regional economic integration, is as critical as ever in Pacific regionalism, particularly as a post-COVID-19 incentive. PICs still need strong, integrated and effective regionalism to aid their multilateral interventions. Anti-globalism may have faded. But its resurgence cannot be just wished away.
Strong Pacific regionalism is essentially the aspiration of PIF’s ‘Blue Pacific’ approach and the raison d’ȇtre of the proposed 2050 Strategy.