Samoa Observer, Apia
Free trade worries at Nadi meeting
By Terry Tavita
2 July 2003
Nadi - There has not been enough public discussion on the creation of a Pacific free trade area, Fiji interest groups said yesterday.
The issue was led by Stanley Simpson, of the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG).
He said governments have not made the effort to consult public servants, producers and consumers on how the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) would affect them.
This included, particularly, the extension of the free trade area to include New Zealand and Australia under the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER), he said.
Simpson was among speakers at a regional news media workshop. This is being held in conjunction with the Pacific Islands Forum Trade Ministers Meeting, where Samoa’s delegation is led by Trade Minister Joe Keil.
Wadan Narsey, an economics professor at the University of the South Pacific, told the journalists smaller island countries face the reality of job losses.
He said many small-scale businesses will be forced out of business.
"I think governments have not thought through the consequences of joining a free trade area," he said.
"We here all this talk of "efficiency and economies of scale. But the reality is, small companies will be forced out once the big players come to town."
Governments have not worked out an alternative plan on how to reemploy people if factories close and people are left without jobs, he said.
What will happen, he said, is that the jobless will march on the streets and local business owners will be complaining that they are being squeezed out of the market by foreign companies.
He added: "But rather than take up that nationalist call, the media should also consider the views of the consumers who are benefiting from higher quality goods at lower prices.
"At this point, the media should be focused more on an assessment of the costs of adjustment."
Dr Narsey said PACER is a late agreement forged by New Zealand and Australia to maintain their foreign policy in the region.
Under PACER, PICTA members will have to negotiate a free trade agreement with those two counties before they can enter into one with any other region.
Mataiasi Labati, chief executive of the Consumer Council of Fiji, believes that this was pushed by Australia and New Zealand to force a free trade agreement with Pacific Islands countries.
"It would have been embarrassing for them if the Pacific islands sought a partnership with the European Union or another entity.
"So in essence, PACER was forced on the islands to safeguard these two countries influence in the region."
Dr Narsey said he believes that if a free trade pact with New Zealand and Australia comes into effect, it would be catastrophic for local businesses.
"I would estimate that over 80 per cent of local businesses here in Fiji would fold," he said.