PSA asks for deferment of PACER Plus signing

Trade ministers from Pacific Island Forum countries, including Australia and New Zealand, meet in Christchurch to discuss PACER plus. Photo: RNZI/Koroi Hawkins

NUKU’ALOFA-June 12: 10:44am(Nuku’alofa Times): The Public Service Association believes Tonga is not ready to sign the PACER PLUS because the current text is detrimental to the country’s businesses.

PSA’s Secretary General Mele ‘Amanaki told the media in a statement today that they have raised their concerns with the Prime Minister, Hon ‘Akilisi Pohiva, Trade Minister Hon Dr Pohiva Tu’ionetoa and Trade Chief Executive Officer Kulu Bloomfield.

Although the PSA and its members are in support of the PACER Plus Trade Agreement, Ms ‘Amanaki said they are not in agreement with the current text.

“The current text is detrimental to our businesses in Tonga, employment opportunities of the workers working in businesses that will be harmed, discouragement to young potential entrepreneurs and new businesses, health of consumers with the influx of cheaper low quality food products when we do not have the health safeguards in place yet,” Ms ‘Amanaki said.

“All we are asking is to defer signing of PACER Plus from next Wednesday and may be submit it to the Forum Leaders meeting in September to finalize it whether we, all Pacific Island Countries, sign or improve the text to address concerns and then sign next year.”

Ms ‘Amanaki said that by acknowledging the principles of Regionalism endorsed by “our Forum Leaders, the PICs must work together on this for all mutual benefits of all”.

“Not just Australia`s and New Zealand`s and we only sign for the aids.  Note the trade benefits Australia  and New Zealand gets from Tonga and the Pacific Island Countries are far greater than the aids programmes granted to us.”

She said that with the current text Tonga will find a tough time trying to get exports into New Zealand and Australia because of stringent measures that are in place.

Ms ‘Amanaki said that the fact that countries like  Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomons and Vanuatu have withdrawn from signing the agreement is an indication that they are not happy with the current text and the implications the current agreement will have on their own economies.

“Tuvalu`s PM has decided last Friday not to come over to Tonga for the signing.  If all the PICs are not in this together then we must defer and reconsider again,” she said.

“You need to tell the businesses and the people which products you are going to increase when the tariff is reduced, meaning nothing will be change on the prices.  The traffic will be reduced and put into the consumers to pay in taxes.  This is not a decision to be made by you alone.  A mechanism is needed to be put in place with representatives of the businesses and consumers to determine this,

“Do not underestimate the signatories of the petition that we do not know anything about trade and PACER Plus.  We acknowledge your skills and knowledge in Trade but we must not compromise the survival of our businesses, livelihood of our workers and the health of our people in our efforts for economic development.  Hence an integrated approach should have been taken right from the start, had the businesses, workers and consumers been included in the national consultations during the negotiations of PACER Plus, a more favourable agreement would have been reached.

“It is our duty to submit our concerns, the final decision is Cabinet to make hence we look forward to a decision from Cabinet in the next two days.”

Earlier response

In an earlier response to Ms ‘Amanaki’s email, Trade CEO Mr Bloomfield said the agreement includes clauses that deal with issues countries might not be happy with.

He quoted Article 11: Technical Discussions:

 

  1. If a Party considers that a technical regulation, standard or conformity assessment procedure affecting trade between it and another Party warrants further discussion, it may, through the Contact Points, request a detailed explanation of the measure and if necessary, request to hold technical discussions in an attempt to resolve any concerns on specific issues arising from the application of the measure. The other Party shall respond promptly to any requests for such explanations, and if so requested, shall enter into technical discussions within 60 days from the date of the request. The Parties to the technical discussions shall make every effort to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution through technical discussions within 90 days from the date of the request or within a timeframe mutually agreed upon by them.

Mr Bloomfield also pointed to the Dispute Settlement clause under consultations:

 Article 5: Consultations

 

  1. Any Party may request consultations with any other Party with respect to any matter referred to in Article 3.

 

  1. During consultations, Parties should give special attention to the particular problems and interests of developing country Parties.

 

  1. Any request for consultations shall give the reasons for the request, including identification of the measures at issue and an indication of the legal basis for the complaint.

 

  1. A copy of all requests for consultations shall be simultaneously provided to all Parties.

 

  1. If a Party requests consultations, the other Party shall reply to the request for consultations and circulate the reply to all Parties within 10 days of the request for consultations, and enter into the consultations in good faith within 30 days of the request. In cases of urgency, including perishable goods, the other Party shall reply and circulate the reply to all Parties within 10 days, and enter into consultations in good faith within 10 days.

Mr Bloomfield said the agreement does not force local importers to buy good solely from Australia and New Zealand.

He stated that Government wants to see quality imports brought into the Kingdom that were also cheap for consumers to buy and can afford.

He said parties can still negotiate on tariffs and include that in their agreements.

He said that ‘CHAPTER 2 – TRADE IN GOODS’ clearly states that:  “This Chapter shall apply to all goods traded between the Parties.

Article 3 (4): Commitments on Tariffs in this Agreement shall preclude the Parties from negotiating and entering into arrangements collectively for the acceleration or improvement of commitments in their Schedules. Such agreements shall be incorporated into this Agreement in accordance with Article 7 of Chapter 15 (Final Provisions). Accelerated or improved commitments thereunder shall be implemented by those Parties and be extended to all Parties.”

He said the Agreement may be amended by agreement in writing by the Parties and such amendments shall come into force on such date or dates as may be agreed among them.

Pacific countries are scheduled to sign the PACER PLUS Agreement in Tonga this week.






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