The heat is on for Forum member countries in the Pacific to wrap up negotiations and finalise their Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations with Australia and New Zealand, now referred to with the acronym PACER Plus by the end of the year. Chief Trade Adviser to the Pacific Island Countries Dr Edwin Kessie is hopeful the December 2014 deadline could be met. “I am hopeful that we can meet the deadline if all the parties exercise flexibility and always keep in view the raison d’etre of PACER Plus,” said Dr Kessie. “We have made good progress in the intersessional meetings and if we keep on working harder, we should be able to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible.
There is the realisation among the parties that the longer it takes to conclude PACER Plus negotiations, the fewer the benefits of the Agreement will be.” The most recent negotiations between PICs and their two larger neighbours was held in Port Vila early last month. As in previous negotiations, thorny issues continued to be the development assistance component of PACER Plus and labour mobility. Although remaining optimistic, Dr Kessie who leads the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor in Port Vila says Australia and New Zealand need to exercise more flexibility if progress is to be made.
“The Forum Island Countries have made it patently clear to Australia and New Zealand in the negotiations that they expect them to undertake substantive commitments on labour mobility and development assistance. I believe that this message has been heard and it is my expectation that Australia and New Zealand would respond accordingly.
In that regard, I should mention that New Zealand has tabled compromise proposals on these two overarching issues which the parties are currently considering. It would be a missed opportunity for the Pacific region if the parties are not able to conclude the negotiations because of these two issues. Flexibility is needed on all sides and I hope that the negotiators will live up to the challenge of coming up with a forward looking agreement that would provide a platform for the Forum Island Countries to achieve economic growth and sustainable development.”
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