PACIFIC ISLANDS: Trade pact will undermine sovereignty

Issue 

A Pacific islands network which monitors globalisation in the Pacific is calling on Pacific island leaders to think before they ratify trade agreements and those who have ratified to withdraw from them.

Pacific Network for Globalisation (PANG) has voiced its concerns that the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) which will come into force on August 2002, were never drafted by Pacific leaders.

University of Papua New Guinea academic Dr Julienne Kaman, who is a member of PANG, said a meeting was organised by the network in Fiji early this year which she attended.

“The group's main aim at the meeting in Fiji was focused on critically analysing Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations”, Kaman said.

She said the two agreements have been designed to incorporate the Pacific islands countries into the World Trade Organisation which is the globalisation of trade for the Pacific island countries.

“I feel it is important for ordinary Papua New Guinean citizens to be made aware of such policies which will directly and indirectly affect our lives and that of our future children”, Kaman said.

“In PANG's view, the agreements are neither in the islands countries' interest nor have they been conceived or drafted by Pacific leaders. And the Social Impact Assessment carried out by the [Pacific Islands] Forum secretariat appears to be an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Pacific leaders and the people”, said PANG in a media release.

According to a statement by PANG, PICTA will involve a gradual lowering of tariffs on goods traded among island states over a 10-year period. Parties to PICTA are also required to remove all non-tariffs barriers (quotas, import and export licences etc) and are prohibited from offering lower tariff rates to non-PICTA countries.

While not a free trade agreement itself, PACER provides a framework for future free trade agreements and economic relations in the region as a whole including Australia and New Zealand. While it requires ratifications by eight Pacific states, in reality, these negotiations will be triggered when the European Union begins negotiating free trade agreements with Pacific islands countries in September 2002, under the Cotonou agreement which replaced the Lome agreement.

PACER will also facilitate PICTA's implementation by offering a program of financial and technical assistance in the areas of trade facilitation, trade promotion, capacity building, fiscal reform and structural adjustment.

“Although PICTA is hailed as a landmark achievement in the history of international co-operation in the region, both agreements are merely stepping stones towards full compliance with the WTO [World Trade Organisation].

“Far from furthering co-operation among Pacific Islands states, PICTA will encourage competition between them and could provoke unanticipated discord and tension among them and their peoples. This could undermine the regional unity that has been a hallmark of successful negotiations around shared resources like fisheries”, PANG said.

PANG is concerned that Pacific island nations are being asked to open their doors even further to overseas products, overseas investments and overseas service producers.

“Our national assets will be open to purchase by overseas interests while we are being asked to make the labour of our workers available at the lowest cost”, said PANG.

According to PANG, the IMF, the World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and the WTO work together to force nations to open their economies, even though this means that national economic interests and those of ordinary people may be seriously harmed.

Kaman said when PANG had all this information released in New Zealand and Fiji papers, Noel Levi, who was heading the Forum secretariat in Suva responded that there is little the Pacific can do about globalisation.

“I would like to argue to the contrary that such an important document should have been carefully analysed in the interest of protecting trade and sovereignty in the Pacific island countries”, Kaman said.

[From the Papua New Guinea Independent, <http://www.niugini.com/independent>. Dr Julienne Kaman will be speaking at the Second Asia-Pacific International Solidarity Conference, Sydney, March 29-April.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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