Wednesday’s signing of the PACER Plus agreement in Nuku’alofa will be even smaller than expected, with Vanuatu the latest island nation to back out of the trade treaty.
The two largest Island economies, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, have already walked away from the negotiations.
Vanuatu’s Council of Ministers said it wanted to examine the 1000 PACER Plus page document in more detail before it signed.
Despite the absences, this week’s signing by regional heads of government will be a significant event for the Tongan capital.
Apart from Australia, New Zealand and hosts Tonga, the countries expected to sign the Pacer Plus agreement are the Cook islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palaua, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
Negotiations over the trade deal have been going on for nearly a decade.
PACER Plus is meant to open up opportunities for trade in the Pacific.
The PACER Plus document says that it is intended to “avoid unnecessary barriers to trade, facilitate and liberalise trade and thereby promote integration between the economies of the parties.”
However, critics have warned that Australia and New Zealand will continue to dominate the region’s economy and that few ordinary people will receive any direct benefits from the agreement.
New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McLay said earlier this year that under the deal $55 million would be spent helping Pacific economies over the next five years.
New Zealand Green MP Barry Coates told Asia Pacific Report the money was less than one percent of the current level of NZ and Australian aid to the Pacific.
“A far more significant programme of skills training and infrastructure building is required to boost productive capacity in Pacific island countries,” Coates said.
There has been significant opposition to the deal in Vanuatu from NGOs, churches and members of Parliament.
Last month 60 civil society groups and 233 individuals signed an open letter in which they called for an independent study on the likely health and environmental effects of the deal.
However, critics have warned that Australia and New Zealand will continue to dominate the region’s economy.
The main points
- Wednesday’s signing of the PACER Plus agreement in Nuku’alofa will be even smaller than expected, with Vanuatu the latest island nation top back away from the trade treaty.
- The two largest Island economies, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, have already walked away.
- PACER Plus is meant to open up opportunities for trade in the Pacific.
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