Solomon Star | Monday, 18 October 2010
No rush: Rugebatu warns against rushing into PACER Plus
THE Solomon Islands’ biggest umbrella body for community service organisations on Saturday warned against rushing into PACER-Plus – a free trade agreement proposed between Pacific Island countries, Australia and New Zealand.
Collin Rugebatu of Development Services Exchange (DSE) warned that the Solomon Islands stood to lose if it rushed into PACER-Plus, saying the country, its people and services needed more time to become strong enough to compete with a flood of imports under PACER-Plus.
“I think we want this trade to come through but we want it to come when we are ready,” he said.
“They talk about a level playing field but it’s not. It’s like a 100 metre race where the Solomon Islands is the slowest runner. We tend to lose if we support PACER-Plus now, rather than when our people are ready.”
Mr Rugebatu said a sizeable chunk of the Solomon Island population was still illiterate, few areas had properly serviced roads and reliable shipping and other services.
“More than five years is needed for proper roads, shipping, storage facilities for our local goods,” he said.
He added that there were many other development concerns that needed to be addressed before PACER-Plus.
The DSE represents 53 of the biggest civil society organisations in the Solomon Islands.
Mr Rugebatu’s comments come as the first Non-State Actor (NSA) Dialogue over PACER-Plus that the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat has planned kicks off today in Honiara.
The Dialogue was expected to give NSAs a chance to discuss critical issues arising over PACER-Plus negotiations, however not many from throughout the region have been able to afford to travel to the one-day event.
PIFS invited three people from the private sector to put forward their positions and three from civil society organisations in the afternoon session of the meeting.
The morning and lunch sessions are dedicated to trade officials involved in negotiations putting forward their positions.
Meanwhile Chairman of the Non-State Actors dialogue on PACER Plus Kaliopate Tavola from Fiji yesterday said fears over loss of revenue from removal of tariffs under free trade are justified, according to the chair of the first ever Non-State Actor Dialogue over PACER-Plus.
Tavola said it was for that reason that the concerns needed to be addressed through negotiation and discussion.
“There is a lot of fear of free trade agreements as a concept. The fears over loss of revenue are justified.
“The concern is well appreciated by all concerned. We are very much aware of the downside of FTAs and that’s why there is a lot of fear on PACER-Plus. But we need to sit down and draft something that will address concerns,” he said.
Pacific Island Private Sector Organisations (PIPSO) chief executive Mereia Volavola agreed that there were fears amongst businesses over competition under a free trade area.
She said PIPSO was engaged in the NSA Dialogue over PACER-Plus to put forward their issues.
“This is just an initial process to look at the process of engagement. It’s important to hear the views of the private sector and their fears over competition,” she said.