Moratorium needed on Pacific trade talks, warn Pacific Civil Society
Civil society groups from the Pacific including churches, trade unions, gender groups,
indigenous rights groups and advocacy groups launched a statement calling for a
moratorium on negotiations for a new Pacific-wide free trade agreement known as
PACER-Plus. The statement, launched in Port Vila, Vanuatu, to coincide with the annual
Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting, called on Leaders to put the developmental
priorities of the Pacific ahead of political timelines.
PACER Plus is the most important trade negotiation Pacific countries are going to
undertake this decade. However, Pacific civil society organisations have not been
adequately consulted about the type of development and trade relationship the Pacific
should have with Australia and New Zealand. It is precisely for this reason that civil society
organisations, churches and trade unions are calling for a moratorium on PACER-Plus
Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) campaigner Adam Wolfenden said the rushing of
negotiations will only lead to a bad agreement for the Pacific. “Negotiations are already
starting despite most Pacific Islands not having consulted with their people to determine
what is in their interests. After one year we are seeing the foundations for a bad
agreement,” said Mr Wolfenden.
Mr Wolfenden, who is in Vanuatu to launch the statement, said that “for a country like
Vanuatu the issue of land is central to life and inextricably linked to any economic future
and PACER-Plus agreement, yet negotiations are moving ahead without a consultation
with traditional owners. ”
Instead PACER-Plus negotiations have progressed rapidly in regional spaces where
priority areas have been identified. Civil Society Organisations have argued for the
exclusion of essential services such as education, health and water, and investment.
However, these are now listed as priority areas for negotiations under PACER-Plus.
The call for a moratorium is also to ensure the correct sequencing of events -
development first to build the supply-side capacity and trade related infrastructure which
would then inform negotiations on development assistance and trade rules that prioritises
Pacific development priorities. As it currently stands, PACER-Plus negotiations are largely
focused on trade rules and opening up of markets whilst development and development
assistance have become increasingly obscure.
Director of Australian aid watchdog AID/WATCH, Gary Lee commented that Australian aid
is being used to secure commitments from Pacific islands on trade liberalisation. “Australia
is using promises of more aid to push ahead with PACER-Plus. Using its position as a major
aid donor to push ahead Australia’s trade interests poses serious risks to Pacific island
economies and communities. Furthermore, while trade commitments would be binding and
enforceable, promises of increased aid are not,” stated Mr Lee.
The statement calls for more thorough assessment of whether or not PACER-Plus
negotiations should continue. “Globally we’re still recovering from the financial and food
crises, these crises should give reason to pause and consider what all our options are, not
only trade liberalisation. Going ahead with a binding free trade agreement will see us
continue to make the same mistakes,” concluded Mr Wolfenden
The 2010 Civil Society Statement to Pacific Island Forum Leaders regarding PACER-Plus
negotiations is endorsed by organisations from across Pacific Island Countries and
regional organisations like the Pacific Conference of Churches, the South Pacific and
Oceanic Council of Trade Unions, Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, Council of Pacific
Education and the Pacific Network on Globalisation. The statement is supported by over
20 organisations in Australia and New Zealand, including the Australian Council of Trade
Unions, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, AID/WATCH, Christian World Service and
the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network.
For more information, and for interviews, phone (+678) 5664125.
Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG).
Phone: (679) 331 6722
Mobile (in Vanuatu): (+678) 5664125
Email: [email protected] or [email protected]