Chief Trade Adviser (CTA) for Forum Island Countries, Dr Edwini Kessie, has defended the integrity of the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA) that it does not take instructions from either Australia or New Zealand

, nor his colleagues.

The Chief Trade Adviser made the clarification to approximately 40 representatives of NGOs, Diplomatic Missions and relevant Vanuatu public servants at PACER Plus consultations at Warwick Le Lagon Resort two days ago.

He said Australia and New Zealand cannot influence him.

“I always tell people, ‘I have my job, and I work for the World Trade Oganisation.

“In fact personally, I have to take a pay cut even to come to Vanuatu.

“So it’s not because Australia and New Zealand are paying me that I’ll be biased.

“You know the whole idea that because OCTA did the study, it would not be independent.

“We are primarily answerable to the OCTA Governing Board and we don’t take instructions and to be fed to Australia and New Zealand.

“They have never, never sought to influence the OCTA,” he said.

Dr Kessie said as Adviser to the Forum Island Countries (FICs), if he negotiates a bad deal for FICs, he won’t be able to sleep.

“I would like the FICs to grow, at least I have some connections to the Pacific.

“My wife is from Tonga and my children are half from the Pacific.

“So I’d like to see a Pacific which can actually take advantage of trade to grow,” he said. The CTA welcomes the comments on Facebook but that he does not take them seriously because they are not true.

“We have to be clear that PACER Plus is not yet concluded, it is still being negotiated.

“As such you cannot make any definitive conclusions as to what the impact of the Agreement would be at this stage,” he argued.

“We have a plan that the agreement would be signed in November to come into force on January 1st 2018 (but) we don’t know whether that guideline would be met. So obviously you cannot determine the impact of the Agreement.”

The CTA said for the Agreement to work for Vanuatu, it would depend on the policies the Vanuatu Government adopts.

“If you have an agreement, it is not an end in itself.

“For PACER Plus to work for Vanuatu it would depend on the policies the Vanuatu Government adopts.

“If you sign an agreement and put it on the shelf, and the Government does not work with the private sector to respond to the concerns of the private sector in order to develop trade, the agreement would be worthless,” he reiterated.

“At the end of the day we need to be very clear (because) having an agreement in itself would not do anything.

“It depends on how that agreement is used.”

The Office of the Chief Trade Adviser and officials from the Department of External Trade made presentations on various aspects of the negotiations, including Trade in Services, Temporary Movement of Natural Persons, Investment, Trade in Goods, Rules of Origin, as well as the Sustainable Impact Assessment study conducted by the OCTA.

It was noted that, according to preliminary analysis based on best available information at the time of the study, the economic and social impacts are likely to be positive, while the environmental impacts are likely to be negative. However, the Agreement permitted countries to adopt appropriate mitigation measures.

The Director of the Department of External Trade, Sumbe Antas, underscored that the Vanuatu economy is predominantly services-based and is expected to derive considerable benefits from PACER Plus.

The sessions were interactive with participants posing incisive questions regarding the likely impacts of the Agreement. Participants were provided with detailed responses addressing their concerns with respect to the likely adverse impact of the Agreement and other issues in the negotiations.

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