Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva has denied a news media report saying he told reporters Tonga has withdrawn from PACER Plus trade deal.
The report appeared on Matangi Tonga online in March 26 after a press conference with the Prime Minister on March 23, according to a statement released to news media by the Prime Minister’s office yesterday.
The statement said:
“The article, entitled, “PM’s Cabinet incomplete”, attributed to the Hon Prime Minister the following statement, “The Prime Minister admitted that after he signed the PACERPlus (sic) Trade Agreement, it was discovered to be inappropriate and now Tonga is no longer a signatary (sic) to the PACERPlus (sic) Trade Agreement”.
“I did not make that statement during my media conference on 23 March, nor did I say anything that even suggested, or could be translated or interpreted, that Tonga was no longer a signatory to the PACER Plus Agreement,” Hon. Pohiva was quoted by his Office’s statement as saying.
The Minister of Finance Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa told Kaniva News on Wednesday, following the Matangi Tonga report, he was unaware of any move by the government to withdraw its involvement in the PACER Plus agreement.
The region-wide free trade agreement was signed in Tonga in June 2017.
It has been hailed by proponents as a new kind of agreement that links development to trade to boost island economies including Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Niue, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Cook Islands.
The report by Matangi Tonga was republished by some international news media including Radio New Zealand International.
A spokesperson from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Radio Australia has not received any formal advice from Tonga that it is not proceeding towards ratification of the Treaty.
“They said Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, discussed PACER Plus and the joint interest in lifting economic growth in the region when she met with the Tongan Government on 23 March.”
A report by The Diplomat said: “The withdrawal of Tonga has the potential to derail the agreement which had been in negotiations since 2009. It was envisioned as the centerpiece of a new regional trading and strategic framework. Tonga now joins the two largest Pacific economies (aside from Australia and New Zealand), Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji in being non-signatories to PACER Plus.”