Vanuatu will not sign the PACER Plus Agreement next week on June 14 at Nuku’alofa in Tonga, with other regional countries that will sign, as agreed on in April this year with Australia and New Zealand.

Vanuatu has pulled out of the signing after the Council of Ministers’ meeting on June 7 in Port Vila decided that the Vanuatu Government will not take part in the signing of the regional Agreement.

The Council of Ministers wants more time to assess the benefits of PACER plus to Vanuatu and what the country will lose if it signs the Agreement. It also wants time for assessment of the impacts, once the country signs PACER Plus, on the country’s infant industry.

Once the Council of Ministers receives the results of these assessments it says it will be in a position to make its final decision.

Additionally, the Council of Ministers wants Vanuatu to maintain good economic relations with other countries close to Vanuatu and the Pacific island countries to improve their economies.

The Vanuatu Government has also confirmed Vanuatu will maintain its strong relationship with Australia and New Zealand and other Pacific Island Countries.

Vanuatu has now become the third country not to sign the agreement after Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji.

PNG and Fiji – the two largest Pacific Island countries – had indicated they would not sign the agreement.

PNG had already signaled it would not sign the agreement, preferring to pursue bilateral deals with Australia and New Zealand, as well as multilateral trade deals already negotiated with other Melanesian states – Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Fiji’s inclusion remains uncertain, with the country choosing not to withdraw from the agreement, nor has it agreed to sign.

As recently as last week, the Government of Vanuatu was saying the country remained committed to completing the process towards signing and ratifying and benefiting from the agreement.

The Acting Foreign Affairs Minister, Ham Lini, opening the Seventh Non-State Actors Dialogue Workshop on PACER Plus at Warwick Le Lagon Resort in Port Vila at that time said that the Government considered PACER Plus a significant Agreement with vast potentials.

Despite what the Government thought about the agreement, private businesses in Vanuatu did not think PACER Plus would be beneficial for the country. The views of the private sector were continually voiced in the public arena through the mainstream media by the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industries (VCCI).

The PACER Plus Trade Agreement will be signed by now 13 Pacific Island countries including Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday, June 14 in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, Matangi Tonga Online reports.

The PACER Plus trade deal is to be signed off and finalised next week, after almost a decade of negotiations. The deal aims to create closer economic ties between Australia, New Zealand and a host of Pacific nations.

The Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) is an umbrella agreement between members of the Pacific Islands Forum (the Forum Island Countries plus Australia and New Zealand) which provides a framework for the future development of trade cooperation.

As reported by the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser this week in this newspaper, PACER Plus covers Trade in Goods, Customs Procedures, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), Rules of Origin (ROO), Trade in Services, Trade in Movement of Natural Persons, Investment, Development and Economic Cooperation and a stand-alone Labour Mobility Arrangement.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: jonas@dailypost.vu. Cell # 678 5460922

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