THE regional free trade agreement, known as PACER-Plus was concluded last month in Brisbane, Australia. As usual, such events are met with great fan-fare and congratulatory press releases. New Zealand called the deal “historic”, the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA) described it as a “landmark” deal, Australia went on to say that the increased trade will be “generating growth, jobs and raising living standards”.
Overshadowing all the praise was the elephant in the room, or more precisely the elephant not in the room. Papua New Guinea withdrew from the negotiations in 2016 citing the proposed agreement as a ‘net loss’ for PNG. Fiji, who had been harbouring concerns about the protections for its infant industries and their ability to pursue better trade deals with other countries, was also not in attendance apparently not for want of trying.
The absence of the two biggest Pacific Island economies cuts through the hyperbole of PACER-Plus exposing the ugly fact that if the two most developed Island countries aren’t able to benefit from the agreement then how will those with less capacity. PACER-Plus has never been about the Pacific despite the reassurances of Australia and New Zealand.
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