A wedgie in regional geopolitics

from the recently concluded Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, or PACER Plus, raises some interesting questions about the changing geopolitics of the region and whether Australia is adopting a divide-and-rule approach.

PACER Plus was meant to be an opportunity to help Pacific Islands Forum countries benefit from enhanced regional trade and economic integration. Its key objectives were to provide long-term opportunity to create jobs, enhance private sector growth, raise standards of living, and boost economic growth in Forum Island Countries. Another element of the agreement was to enhance trade capacity building and trade development assistance to strengthen the Forum Island countries’ ability to trade.

Both, Fiji and Papua New Guinea have, over the years, expressed reservations about some of the objectives of the PACER Plus trade agreement and in particular whether real benefits would accrue for the islanders or for Australia and New Zealand. Following eight years of negotiations, an agreement was reached mid-April between Australia and New Zealand on one side of the table and 12 Pacific Islands Forum countries on the other – minus the region’s two prominent countries, Fiji and Papua New Guinea which, together, represent the South Pacific’s largest economies.

Australia’s Trade Minister, Steven Ciobo, dismissed Fiji and Papua New Guinea’s non-inclusion in the final talks saying they had elected not to sign the agreement. Fiji’s Trade Minister Faizal Koya, however, argues that Fiji was in fact “excluded” from the final negotiations.

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