Pacific leaders agree on aid, free trade negotiations

NZPA | Friday August 7 2009

Pacific leaders agree on aid, free trade negotiations

New Zealand has signed an agreement with other Pacific nations to coordinate aid in the region.

Prime Minister John Key described this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting, which took place over three days this week, as "very successful".

There was widespread acceptance of the need for economic reform and New Zealand and Australia would assist by providing officials to oversee the coordination of aid to Pacific Island countries to lift economic development, he said.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the leaders had signed the Cairns Compact — an agreement for greater coordination of aid across the Pacific.

The leaders called on all donor countries to coordinate their efforts in a bid to alleviate rising poverty, Mr Rudd said.

The forum "must lift their efforts to new heights", he said.

In the Cairns Compact forum leaders called on international financial institutions to assist Pacific Islands through "better coordination mechanisms".

They agreed that private sector-led growth, better governance, greater investment in infrastructure, mutual accountability and drawing on the best international experience of aid effectiveness were the principles for success in the region.

The compact also set reporting and assessment measures for the future.

An agreement was also reached to progress Pacer Plus, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, and to keep Fiji informed but not formally involved in the process.

Some countries had previously signalled a preference for having Fiji involved in low level talks, but that did not happen.

New Zealand would establish a $1.95 million Office of Chief Trade Adviser to assist forum countries take advantage of Pacer Plus negotiations, Mr Key said.

"We are also looking for ways to support business groups and non-government organisations to become more closely involved in the development of trade policy in the region."

Negotiations on Pacer Plus were likely to last several years but it would be a "key trade driver for economic development in the Pacific", Mr Key said.

Renewable energy was discussed during the leaders’ retreat at the forum in Cairns today.

Australia will give $25m over four years to establish renewable energy in the Pacific Islands and New Zealand was also likely to make a contribution, Mr Key said.

He did not comment on an amount.

New Zealand has already agreed to help establish a solar power plant in Tonga, he said.

Mr Rudd said the Pacific Islands Forum was no ordinary forum because the leaders chose to meet in a "relaxed Pacific way", with no shouting.

In keeping with the Pacific spirit, sport was also discussed.

The leaders considered the link between community level sport and education and training and agreed to fund the area as a platform for opportunities for young people.

Nauru used the forum to announce it was ready to wind up the Pacific Regional Assistance for Nauru (Pran) which was created to help it "through its very dark and desperate times when it was pretty much bankrupt", Mr Key said.

The fact that it was ready to move on was "living proof the forum’s actually working", he said.

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source: NBR