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Talks to look at Pacific trade deal

Talks to look at Pacific trade deal


12 June 2007

A meeting in August is likely to explore the possibility of a free trade agreement between Pacific Island countries and New Zealand and Australia but rapid progress is not expected.

Trade Minister Phil Goff said New Zealand and Australia had asked members of the Pacific Islands Forum to convene consultations during a scheduled meeting of trade ministers in Vanuatu.

"The Forum Island countries will shortly conclude an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union," Mr Goff said.

"Under the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER). . . those negotiations bring about consultations with Australia and New Zealand with respect to our own trading arrangements.

"This ensures that New Zealand, which already allows tariff-free entry to goods produced in the Pacific Islands, is not disadvantaged by preferential access to Pacific markets being given to European countries."

Under Pacer, signed in 2002, Pacific countries agreed to co-operate to foster economic growth, investment and employment in the region.

Last year at the Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting a joint study to investigate the potential impacts of a closer economic relationship, and to analyse what Pacific Island countries needed to build capacity, promote trade and create sustainable economies was commissioned.

Mr Goff said he did not think an agreement would be reached quickly.

"Any movement towards a Free Trade Agreement in the Pacific will, however, be measured rather than rapid," he said.

"The process for liberalising trade would need to be phased to take into account capacity constraints. A strong focus would be on providing assistance to developing economies to build their capacity to take advantage of any new trading arrangements."

Mr Goff said trade was in favour of New Zealand and Australia which was only balanced by tourism and remittances back to the Islands.

"New Zealand’s aim is to develop an economic and trade policy that works to strengthen our development assistance policies and promote stability and prosperity.

"In the face of other regional trading entities such as the European Union, Asean and the North American Free Trade Agreement, it makes sense for the Pacific Islands Forum countries to examine how we can work more closely together for our common benefit," Mr Goff said.