AFTER almost five years of negotiations, PACER-Plus is far from being concluded.
Two issues – labour mobility and development assistance – continue to clearly stand in the way for PACER-Plus to see the light of day.
“From the report by our Chief Trade Adviser, it appears that there has been very little progress on these two very important issues for the Forum Island Countries (FICs),” Robert Sisilo, Trade Negotiations Envoy and Leader of the Solomon Islands Delegation, told a meeting of the Forum Senior Trade Officials that was held in Tarawa, Kiribati on Tuesday this week.
“We need Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) to be upfront and show their cards on these two issues,” Mr Sisilo added.
According to Mr Sisilo, also Lead Negotiator for the Forum Island Countries (FICs) on PACER-Plus, New Zealand spoke about a possible landing zone on PACER Plus, but what it presented at Port Vila during their last negotiating session fell far short of the expectations of the FICs since their paper did not address their key demands.
“We are prepared to make a deal but not at any cost. There needs to be trade-offs and ANZ have to move from their entrenched positions on labour mobility and development assistance,” Mr Sisilo told the meeting, targeting particularly the ANZ Senior Trade Officials.
The FICs are demanding ANZ to legally bind their labour schemes as an integral part of PACER-Plus, further open up their labour markets and to include other sectors (construction, hospitality etc) of potential interest to the FICs.
“It is our strong view that since we (FICs) would be undertaking legally binding commitments in other areas of the negotiations such as Trade in Goods, Trade in Services and Investment, commitments by ANZ on labour mobility and development assistance should also be legally binding and made an integral part of PACER Plus,” Mr Sisilo emphasized.
ANZ did not share this view and would prefer labour mobility to be outside the PACER Plus Framework.
Both sides agreed to intensify their engagement at their next meeting in the second week of June in Adelaide.
“Yes we are ready, able and willing to engage ANZ to find landing zones on these two important issues if we are to complete negotiations on the legal texts by the end of this year, as mandated by our ministers.
“But to reach those landing zones, we have to meet each other half-way on these issues,” Mr. Sisilo concluded.