Showing posts with label PLACER Plus Free-trade negotiations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PLACER Plus Free-trade negotiations. Show all posts

Saturday, August 17, 2013

X-Post: Eureka Street - Finagling Free Trade In The Pacific.

Source: Eureka Street

Jemma Williams | 

Map delineates Pacific Island region relative to Australia and New Zealand Negotiations towards a free trade agreement involving Australia, New Zealand and 14 of our neighbouring Pacific Island countries are underway this week in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
The agreement, known as PACER-Plus, aims to enhance development through greater trade in the region. However, the negotiations are being carried out on unequal playing field, with Australia and New Zealand leading the talks which involve largely small, underdeveloped island nations, five of which are listed by the United Nations as among the least developed countries in the world. Recognising this, Australia and New Zealand are funding the negotiations as well as providing assistance to Pacific Island countries to implement the agreement.

Despite insisting that promoting development in the Pacific is the priority, Australia stands to gain more than most of the Pacific Islands, which already have tariff-free access for their goods into Australian markets under previous trade arrangements. Among the issues expected to be discussed in Port Vila is trade in services, which would mean Australian companies, providing services from banking to health and education, would have unrestricted access to Pacific Island markets, and Pacific Island governments would have less rights to regulate them.

The logic for including services in trade agreements is that established private service providers, in this case based in Australia or New Zealand, would be enticed into Pacific markets through deregulation, and Pacific Island nations would benefit from increased access to the service they provide. Indeed, the entry of international telecommunications companies into a number of these island economies did improve mobile phone coverage and connectivity, including in rural areas.

However, opening up all service 'markets' in vulnerable economies poses many threats. The inclusion of services in a free trade agreement restricts the regulation of any service which could be considered to have any commercial activity or where there are one or more service providers. This deregulation and entry of private service providers is often followed by pressures to privatise essential services like water. In countries like Argentina and Bolivia private companies have raised prices and have not invested in infrastructure in unprofitable areas.
Jeema Williams

" Many Pacific Island nations question what they would gain from PACER-Plus. Earlier in the year Papua New Guinea's trade minister said PNG would gain nothing from the negotiations and he would consider withdrawing. "

Additionally, services are typically negotiated on what is known as a 'negative list basis' — meaning that all services are included unless they are specifically excluded. This means that all services now and in the future would be subject to these rules even in light of new environmental or social problems or new research. This would undermine governments' policy space to address pressing development concerns like climate change, which is already affecting Pacific Island countries.

Many Pacific island nations are already struggling to provide essential services such as water, health and education. Having access to many of these services is a basic human right. Implementing policies to ensure the equitable distribution of essential public services throughout all areas of the country is one of the essential responsibilities of government. Liberalising trade in services could hinder the ability of government to fund or provide local or government-owned services to their most vulnerable populations.

Healthcare is a typical example. Foreign healthcare providers are likely to establish themselves in wealthy areas, profiting by charging high prices to those who can afford it. They would not service rural populations where the majority of people are unwaged and survive on subsistence agriculture. Governments would still have to fund or provide health care to the most vulnerable populations. Additionally, the stark inequalities in healthcare provision could lead to a 'brain drain,' where the most qualified professionals seek work in clinics which serve the wealthy.

Many Pacific Island nations question what they would gain from PACER-Plus. Earlier in the year Papua New Guinea's trade minister said PNG would gain nothing from the negotiations and he would consider withdrawing. The islands are pushing for the inclusion of temporary labour mobility rights so that their citizens will be able to gain visas to work in Australia and New Zealand, as well as more development assistance. Neither of these issues is normally included in free trade agreements, but they are being used as bargaining chips for Pacific Island nations to concede access to Australia and New Zealand access to their services markets.

If the Australian and New Zealand governments really want to achieve development in the Pacific, it is difficult to understand why they are pushing these islands to reduce their barriers to trade in a manner which could restrict their achievement of human development goals.

Jemma Williams headshotJemma Williams has an honours degree in international studies specialising in international development. She currently works for the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network.

Club Em Designs

Tuesday, November 29, 2011



Graham Davis

The folly of Australian policy towards Fiji is at the centre of a damning new landmark report that suggests the United States has lost confidence in Canberra’s ability to influence events in the Pacific and counter rising Chinese influence in the region. It calls for the immediate and unconditional lifting of regional sanctions against Fiji and for Australia to “repair its relationship at the highest level” by re-engaging with the Bainimarama regime through the Pacific Islands Forum. “It is well past the time to treat this festering regional wound”, it declares.

The report – covering all aspects of Australia’s relations with the Pacific and entitled “Our Near Abroad” – has been issued by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ( ASPI), an independent, government-funded think tank set up in 2001 to advise Canberra on its defence and strategic policy options. The conclusions of its authors – Professor Richard Herr and Anthony Bergin – are bound to stick in the craw of Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, for they present a direct challenge to the entire edifice of current Pacific policy.

The report details in stark terms the extent to which Australia has been isolated in the region and is losing its ability to influence “collective decision making in the South Pacific”. It cites as evidence the fact that eleven Pacific Island members of the United Nations have formed a voting bloc that excludes Australia and that the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) – which also excludes Australia – has backed fellow member Fiji against Australian sanctions.

Grubsheet On ASPI report
Fiji’s membership of the Non Aligned Movement ” underscores Suva’s more aggressive pursuit of South-South dialogue, specifically to reduce reliance on its traditional friends, including Australia. Whether intended or not, China has been a significant beneficiary of this development as a leading state in the NAM
[...]The importance of Fiji for the new geopolitics of the region is that it’s actively challenging Australia’s privileged position in the regional system.

There are many reasons why Australia should repair relations with Fiji, but the deleterious effects of the current contretemps on the Pacific Islands Forum are the key because they cascade through the regional system
[...]ASPI report says that while “the US is reluctant to openly express criticism of Australia’s handling of regional relations, it’s clear there are genuine doubts about Australia’s capacity to lead islands’ opinion on relations with China"

It calls on Australia to “regather the threads of regional leadership” with a comprehensive range of measures that include repairing its relationship with Fiji, a country it describes as being at “the heart of the Pacific Islands regional system” as the principal transportation, communications and diplomatic hub. “The region cannot survive without its heart” – the report says – describing Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum as having “seriously changed regional dynamics”.

ASPI warns of the consequences of Fiji seeking new international relationships because of its breach with Australia and New Zealand over Frank Bainimarama’s 2006 coup. It says Fiji’s membership of the Non Aligned Movement ” underscores Suva’s more aggressive pursuit of South-South dialogue, specifically to reduce reliance on its traditional friends, including Australia. Whether intended or not, China has been a significant beneficiary of this development as a leading state in the NAM”, the report concludes.

The authors suggest that Fiji has outwitted Australia to the detriment of its national interests in the Pacific and the strength and cohesion of regional organisations such as the Pacific Forum . “The importance of Fiji for the new geopolitics of the region is that it’s actively challenging Australia’s privileged position in the regional system. There are many reasons why Australia should repair relations with Fiji, but the deleterious effects of the current contretemps on the Pacific Islands Forum are the key because they cascade through the regional system”. The report cites “the impossibility” of concluding the current PACER Plus trade negotiations and “the rift between the Pacific Islands Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group”, which have taken opposing views on Fiji.

It goes on to say that “Forum-related sanctions (against Fiji) are being subverted by other organisations, including the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency and even RAMSI, the billion dollar Australian intervention in Solomon Islands. It describes those sanctions as “impractical” and says “they have proved dysfunctional for Australia and for its image in the region”. It also says the delay in repairing the relationship has been costly, partly because attitudes in Fiji about the need for Australian assistance appear to have hardened”.

As well as the lifting of sanctions, the report calls on Australia to follow New Zealand’s lead in re-establishing ministerial contact. More controversially, it also calls for the re-establishment of Australia’s ties with the Fiji military to deal with maritime security, border protection and transnational crime.

ASPI goes on to examine the divergence in approach between the United States and Australia towards Fiji, exemplified last week when Washington’s new ambassador in Suva, Frankie Reed, visited Frank Bainimarama in the prime minister’s office. No Australian or New Zealand head of mission has had any direct contact with the Fijian leader since his coup five years ago. The report quotes Ms Reed as having described Fiji’s position in the Pacific as “unique” and said it was “a key focal point in America’s larger regional engagement with the South Pacific”.

In stark contrast with the Australian position, the ambassador said the United States sought a “more direct engagement with Fiji’s government to encourage the restoration of democracy” within the regime’s stated timetable of September 2014.
The ASPI report says that while “the US is reluctant to openly express criticism of Australia’s handling of regional relations, it’s clear there are genuine doubts about Australia’s capacity to lead islands’ opinion on relations with China”.

It concludes that “the US is taking on a more direct role in protecting its own interests in the region, just as it did in the mid to late 1980s when it felt that managing Cold War challenges in the Pacific Islands was beyond the capacity of Australia and New Zealand”.

EDS NOTE: Please excuse the lack of photographs due to a glitch with my WordPress account.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Miss Is A Good As A Mile- Regional Concerns In The Pacific.

Croz Walsh post, outlines some of the mis-reportage covering the Pacific Forum and the discussion on Fiji.

Australia News Network video coverage of issues being discussed in this weeks Pacific Forum in Auckland. (video posted below)

The 2nd Inaugural "Engaging Fiji" regional meeting video coverage and comments by some of the attendees (video posted below).

Island Business Article On Pacific Island Forum

"More seriously, FICs are alarmed to see that the actions of the Forum Secretariat have been characterised by an inappropriate degree of opacity. In particular, while the governance structure of OCTA was discussed through successive rounds of PACER Plus meetings, the contract discussions between the Forum Secretariat and Dr Noonan have not been made available to FICs."

PINA published a recent opinion from Roman Grynberg, that comments on the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA) and the shock resignation of the incumbent, Chris Noonan.

The excerpt of Grynberg's opinion piece:

An islands owned regional body?
By Online Editor
6:57 pm GMT+12, 06/09/2011, Fiji
By Dr Roman Grynberg,

For the last few months, the region has been racked with highly contentious debate over the issue of the role and independence of its newest institution, the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA).

OCTA was established with Australia and New Zealand funding to help the islands negotiate the PACER Plus trade agreement between the islands and Australia and New Zealand. From its very inception, neither the Pacific Islands Forum nor Canberra were willing to allow it to be what the islands wanted, which was a completely independent source of advice.

Several months ago, the situation was further complicated when PNG presented a paper asking for the extension of the remit of OCTA to go beyond the negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and help complete the negotiations with the European Union over the Economic Partnership Agreement, which has now continued for almost eight years.

The reason offered by PNG for shifting the policy advice away from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) was the Forum had not done a competent job, and progress has been slow on key areas of interest such as fisheries and aid for trade.

More importantly, the membership of the Forum includes Australia and New Zealand, there might be potential conflict of interest in trusting the Forum to handle negotiations that would set a precedent for PACER Plus negotiations.

From a Forum Secretariat’s perspective and from the position of Canberra and Wellington this sent up a red flag as nothing could be more dangerous to their monopoly of advice to the region, in this case on trade negotiations.

This had always been the danger in creating OCTA in the first place. At the time the decision was made to create OCTA in 2008, the islands did not trust the Forum Secretariat’s chief executive to do anything other than serve the interests of Canberra and Wellington and in return Canberra and Wellington did not believe the trade advice going to the islands from the secretariat served their interests. But it was clear at the time that OCTA could eventually become the basis for an independent island-owned and controlled organisation where, for the first time in 40 years the islands could get independent advice and make their own decision without the overbearing presence of the two dominant powers.

By creating OCTA, this ‘remit creep’ could end up destroying the Forum Secretariat’s very reason for its existence, which is to provide advice to the islands which is acceptable to Australia and New Zealand.

Separate, but relevant to the PNG paper, is the scope of work of OCTA was a point of contention at the Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Vava’u, Tonga, in May 2011. Australia insisted that the remit of the work of OCTA be limited to PACER Plus only.

The islands believe that since OCTA is theirs, this should be a matter for their decision, and theirs only. There was no agreement at ministerial level and the issue has now been kicked upstairs to the Forum leaders meeting.
At the August 2011, PACP Trade Ministers Meeting in Port Moresby, PNG presented a revised version of their country paper “Future Management of PACP Business including the Current EPA Negotiations”. Two main justifications were given for the need to consider the issue. First, PIFS faces a potential conflict of interest when supporting the PACPs because it owes a duty to all Forum members. Second, Fiji’s full participation in PACP business on an ongoing basis must be resolved. This has led to a recommendation to PACP Leaders for the convening of an Eminent Persons Group to look into the issue of the long-term management of PACP affairs.

It is here where the matters to be discussed by PACP and by Forum leaders interact. The PNG revised country paper raises the possibility of exploring whether OCTA could be a facility for the long-term management of PACP affairs, at least in the area of trade negotiations. There is obvious value in the FICs/PACPs having support in all trade matters provided by a single regional body to ensure coherence and coordination, if not for the practical reasons of resource-efficiency.

With appropriate terms of reference, findings from the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) would shed more light to the FICs on both the future scope of the activities of OCTA and as part of a broader review of the future management of PACP business.

The most difficult question will be who will be supporting and coordinating the group. Such a function might not have an insignificant control over the findings and recommendations of such a group.

If the Forum is tasked, this could result in a situation equivalent to where the accused is charged with choosing its own jury and helping determine its decision. The obvious decision is to ask a relatively independent body such as the Commonwealth or the ACP Secretariat to oversee the workings of the group.

With the recent resignation of Professor Chris Noonan as Chief Trade Negotiator, the region has now lost a skilled and dedicated negotiator who, once the actual negotiations commenced, would have proven invaluable to the islands. But Australia and New Zealand have done their very best to make his job extremely difficult and insecure. Tongan officials have also been instrumental in helping to undermine OCTA and will no doubt be rewarded by higher levels of aid from Canberra.

The steady drum beat of events is moving in one direction, the isolation of Fiji after the coup, the negotiations of EPA and now PACER Plus have moved the islands to finally push for an institution that is both permanent and genuinely independent of Australian and New Zealand domination.

The push by PNG for such a body was almost inevitable. There will remain a residual role for the Forum and its secretariat as a place where the islands talk to Australia and New Zealand but the genuinely independent body that gives the islands advice that is untainted is still waiting to be born and the EPG will almost certainly be the mid-wives.

• These are the views of Dr Roman Grynberg who was Director of Economic Governance at the Forum Secretariat until he was removed in 2009.

Island Business (I.B) article, explores the perceived conflicts in the Forum.

The excerpt of I.B article:

COVER REPORT: Forum in Conflict
Fiji and trade raise possible conflict of interest questions
Samisoni Pareti

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s (PIFS) “exposure” in trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand over PACER Plus has placed the secretariat in a prejudicial position over its management of trade talks with the European Union (EU), a confidential Papua New Guinea Government paper has said.
And Waigani wants PIFS to exclude itself from future Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the EU by establishing a separate and independent office to oversee EPA matters.

“PNG believes there exists a possible issue of conflict of interest in the management role PIFS plays in the EPA negotiations,” said the PNG paper, a copy of which was leaked to this magazine.
“[...]PIFS’ exposure to PACER Plus negotiation places PIFS in a possible situation of prejudice in the EPA negotiations management advice. This is therefore a situation of conflict of interest that exists in the current role PIFS plays in the EPA negotiations.”

PNG’s position was discussed at the trade ministers meeting of Pacific members of the ACP group in Port Moresby last month. The paper was “noted” according to the meeting’s outcome statement, and Ministers have asked their leaders at their meeting in the margins of the Forum Leaders summit in Auckland early September to form an Eminent Persons Group to consider the PNG proposal in detail.
As things stand, PIFS is the current Regional Authorising Officer (RAO) for Pacific members of ACP.
In this role, PIFS manages all ACP matters between its Pacific members, as well as with their counterparts in the other two regions of Africa and the Caribbean, and with the EU.

Thorny issues
But the PNG paper claimed two recent developments have made PIFS’ role as RAO “questionable.” One is the need for Pacific members of PIF to negotiate the free trade agreement PACER Plus with their two bigger and wealthier members of Australia and New Zealand. The other thorny issue is Fiji.

While its membership of PIF has been suspended due to the military coup of December 2006, Fiji’s membership of the ACP grouping is still very much intact. “PIFS’ management of the PACP EPA negotiations may not be consistent with its core functions,” said the PNG Government paper.

“Its core functions and responsibilities should be to provide equal service to the full membership of the Forum. What may be happening by the PIFS’ management role in the EPA negotiations is a situation of serving the interest of one group of members to the exclusion of others."

“PIFS’ responsibilities are to the Forum and its duties are to serve the collective interests of the Forum membership, consistent with the Forum Leaders’ decisions. EPA negotiations management is an additional responsibility PIFS has taken on.

Chris Noonan resigns as Chief Trade Adviser

Pacific Islands negotiations with Australia and New Zealand on PACER Plus has hit a major snag with the resignation of Chief Trade Adviser, Dr Chris Noonan of New Zealand.

Dr Noonan heads the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser, which is based in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and has only been in the job for just over a year.
Although Islands Government Trade Officials were informed of his resignation at a meeting in Papua New Guinea in early August, no public announcement ha[d] been issued.

“Yes, it is correct, I have tendered my resignation,” Dr Noonan said in response to questions from Islands Business about his future at the OCTA. “There is really nothing to tell,” he added in his electronic mail response. “It was for personal reasons. OCTA will carry on—business as usual.”

But it was certainly no business as usual when the New Zealand lawyer and trade expert got appointed as CTA by the Pacific Islands Forum in December 2009. Two months after receiving his appointment letter, Dr Noonan was still debating the actual nature of his contract and structure of the OCTA, a matter Islands Business had reported in its February 2010 edition.

The story quoted from a letter from then Solomon Islands Foreign Minister William Haomae to PIFS (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat) Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade, complaining bitterly about the delays in Dr Noonan’s appointment.

“Despite the importance placed by the trade ministers on the urgent establishment of OCTA, FICs (Forum Islands Countries) have noted with surprise that the handling of the matter by the secretariat has been characterised by extraordinary delays,” wrote the Solomon Islands’ minister.

New South Wales Green Senator Lee Rhiannon

"I call on the Australian government, when it attends this year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting to live up to its call for good governance and aid ownership in the region and respect the rights of Forum islands leaders to decide for themselves what the mandate of the OCTA is. At the end of the day, they are asking only for funding, not permission."

“FICs are concerned that the significant time lags between Dr Noonan’s communication with the secretariat and its responses are interfering with the fulfillment of the mandate given to the secretariat by the Forum Ministers. "Repeated requests for urgent updates from some FICs have yielded at best, delayed responses". Similarly, it has been brought to the attention of FICs that Dr Noonan’s requests for the chance to travel to Fiji and Vanuatu to assist in moving this process forward have been rejected.

“Given the low costs of the proposed travel and its importance, and the significant amount of funding that remains available, the Forum Secretariat’s recalcitrance is puzzling, contrary to its mission to serve all the members’ interests, and might set a worrying precedent for the on-going PACER Plus process.
“More seriously, FICs are alarmed to see that the actions of the Forum Secretariat have been characterised by an inappropriate degree of opacity. In particular, while the governance structure of OCTA was discussed through successive rounds of PACER Plus meetings, the contract discussions between the Forum Secretariat and Dr Noonan have not been made available to FICs.”

Dr Noonan’s appointment was finalised in no time after Haomae’s letter was leaked and published by Islands Business. But for the new CTA, the fight had just begun. Over the past 12 or so months, he has had to fight to get funding for OCTA, with Australia particularly being accused of interfering with the office’s financial independence.

The accusation became too close for comfort for the Australian Government recently when New South Wales Green Senator Lee Rhiannon told Australia’s Upper House that Prime Minister Julian Gilliard’s Government should stop its interfering and bullying tactics.
“Australia would under no circumstances accept such a compromise of its sovereignty,” said Senator Rhiannon.
 "Yet through its aid programme, the government is attempting to make such an imposition on the Forum islands countries".
The islands have asserted that the OCTA is theirs and should be under their control, and not the control of all Forum countries.
“It is a sad irony that I stand in the building that asserts Australia’s sovereignty, asking for it to allow other countries to do the same". 

"I call on the Australian government, when it attends this year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting to live up to its call for good governance and aid ownership in the region and respect the rights of Forum islands leaders to decide for themselves what the mandate of the OCTA is. At the end of the day, they are asking only for funding, not permission.”

The NSW Green Senator referred to the “documentation” of Australia’s “arm-twisting, power politics and pressure” over the OCTA affair. In particular, she questioned the need for Canberra to attempt to limit the scope of the OCTA to PACER Plus negotiations only, and its insistence that OCTA funding be released and reviewed on a quarterly basis.

PIFS role redefined
“This would normally be the responsibility of the ACP Secretariat to its members, ACP being a different legal entity to PIFS. It would therefore be in the best interest of both the PIFS and PACPs that the PIFS role in the EPA negotiations be redefined.”
The Waigani paper asserted that removing the RAO role of PIFS would also resolve the “inappropriate issue” of Fiji’s participation in EPA negotiations.
“Fiji’s case provides a substantive impetus for PACP matters to be managed independently of the Forum. Fiji’s case with PIFS is an example of what can happen if the PACPs, which are members of a completely different legal entity, surrender the management responsibilities of their affairs to another legal entity.
“Hence, the inappropriate issue of Fiji’s eligibility or otherwise comes into play.”
PNG’s view was echoed by a Fiji Government paper which was also presented at the same Port Moresby meeting of Pacific ACP Trade Ministers last August.
In this paper, which was also obtained by Islands Business, Suva made the call that the RAO role should be removed from PIFS.
“PIFS is not a signatory to the Cotonou (Agreement between ACP countries and the EU) and therefore its role to coordinate and provide technical advice to the PACPs was consequential to the PACPs’ commitments and decisions.

“It therefore follows that the PACPs are at liberty to assign this role to the PIFS (which they did in 2004) or to transfer it to another organisation if they feel PIFS is unable to perform the role effectively.”
Fiji is particularly displeased that because of its suspension from PIF, its leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama would not be able to attend this month’s Pacific ACP Leaders summit in Auckland.
Under its travel sanctions policy, Wellington bans Bainimarama, his cabinet ministers and senior military officers and their families from visiting New Zealand. Canberra has a similar policy.

EPA – interim or comprehensive?

The future structure of a free trade agreement between Pacific members of the ACP and Europe hangs in a balance as parties scramble to meet the once again changed negotiation deadline of mid-2012.
As a negotiating bloc, the 14 members of the Pacific ACP countries have agreed to negotiate as a region with the EU (European Union) and to all aim for a full, comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

However, the two larger members of Papua New Guinea and Fiji opted out of that agreement when they individually signed an interim EPA (I-EPA) with the European Union in 2007 to protect their tuna and sugar exports respectively. PNG has since ratified that agreement.
The race to meet the EPA negotiation deadline, which has now been pushed from the end of December 2011 to mid-2012, has only added pressure on what is already a complex and highly charged negotiation environment.

To-date, only eight out of the 14 members of the Pacific ACP have submitted their market offers to the EU—a pre-requisite for negotiations over a comprehensive EPA.
But if that’s not complicated enough, the European Union has upped the tempo when at the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers meeting in Papua New Guinea last month, proposed that the islands of the Pacific should follow PNG and Fiji by opting for a revised interim agreement, something that has been dubbed I-EPA Plus.

“Accession to the interim EPA would greatly reduce negotiating requirements and would provide countries wishing to benefit from this option with quick access to the EU market,” acting Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Papua New Guinea Dr Kay Beese told Pacific ACP Trade Ministers.
“If a substantial number of countries would be joining the agreement, the existing agreement could later be amended and new chapters added.

“These could concern fisheries or development cooperation, if the parties to the agreement so wish.”
According to Dr Beese, an interim EPA Plus was much more realistic and takes into account the specific nature of members of the Pacific ACP.
Whilst the outcome document of the Trade Ministers meeting showed that Dr Beese’s proposal was not accepted, it was Fiji that officially expressed some support for the interim EPA Plus option.
“Fiji had always supported that the comprehensive EPA was its long-term vision for the region’s relations with the EU,” a Fiji position paper said.

“It had initialled and signed the I-EPA as an interim solution to maintain its market access into the EU.“This position will be reconsidered if the current arrangement of Fiji’s participation in the EPA continues.“The EU mooted the idea of I-EPA Plus this year.
“Two of the PACPs have indicated their strong interest to join the I-EPA.“Fiji would join the like minded countries in pursuing the proposed I-EPA Plus concept with the EU if its participation in the comprehensive EPA negotiations is frustrated,” the Fiji paper said.

EPA negotiations crucial stage
At the Port Moresby meeting in August of Pacific ACP trade ministers, Fiji lobbied for support to get an invite to attend the Pacific ACP Leaders summit, or failing that, the venue of the PACP leaders summit be changed from Auckland to Port Vila.

“Given that the EPA negotiations are at a crucial stage, the consequences of excluding Fiji from the next PACPs leaders meeting would be more significant than past meetings,” the Fiji paper argued.
“Fiji cannot agree to a process where the outcomes are beyond its control and where it cannot defend its own interest.”
Islands Business was told Fiji received a lot of support at the Port Moresby meeting, but because of time and logistical constraints, ministers felt it would be very difficult to change the venue of the Pacific ACP Leaders meeting.
As a way forward, PNG is proposing a permanent independent Pacific ACP trade facility or office.
“In PNG’s original paper (tabled at the last Trade Ministers meeting in Apia in April 2011), the possibility of the transfer of current EPA negotiations management to the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA) was raised,” the PNG position paper had said.
“Some of the arguments used in favour of OCTA in the original paper still remain useful for consideration for a possible long-term arrangement for the management of PACP affairs.
“This may be more feasible to consider, now that the OCTA is an established legal entity under Vanuatu laws.”
PNG went onto suggest that in addition to the formation of an Eminent Persons Group from amongst Pacific ACP countries to consider its proposal, Pacific ACP ambassadors based in Brussels should sound out the ACP Secretariat and the European Commission to fund a study on a separate Pacific ACP office.
This proposal would be put before Pacific ACP leaders at their Auckland meeting.

Issue of conflict
Papua New Guinea has raised this issue of conflict of interest against PIFS before.
In fact. it first raised the matter in October 2010 when its then Trade Minister Sam Abal complained bitterly about PIFS, accusing it of stalling EPA negotiations with the EU.
He specifically called for the removal of the PIFS legal adviser and questioned the independence of  Director of Economic Governance and leading trade adviser Dr Chakriya Bowman of Australia.
PIFS now has a new legal adviser but Dr Bowman, a former AusAID trade negotiator, is still with the Suva-based regional organisation.
Official meeting documents do not show them, but Islands Business has been told the perception that PIFS is too close to Canberra and Wellington is still very much alive and common amongst islands government officials. This, they said, is also driving the push to strip PIFS of its RAO role on ACP matters.
An official in particular pointed to the agenda that PIFS prepared for the September Pacific ACP Leaders meeting in Auckland.

Although PACER Plus is a key factor, this item was not included in the meeting agenda initially, prompting the Solomon Islands Government, as the current chair of the OCTA Governing Board, to direct PIFS for a PACER Plus briefing on the agenda.
“In my own discussions,” this government official said, “a number of FOC officials do share the view that PIFS share a bed with Australia and New Zealand and some PIFS officials, especially the senior ones, do show that during our meetings or in drafting sessions of outcome statements and in their body languages.”
With the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Fiji a week before the Forum leaders  meet in Auckland, it is obvious the PNG’s position on PIFS and Fiji will be adopted by other members of the group.
The message would be that PIFS has too much on its plate and the matter of conflict of interest over EPA negotiations makes it a compelling case for this role to be shifted elsewhere.

Snag in fishing talks

Pacific negotiators for an economic partnership agreement with the European Union have drawn a line on the sand over their fish resource negotiations. At their summit in Auckland this month, leaders of the Pacific ACP countries would be urged to adopt a strong stance on negotiations with the EU over their lucrative fish resources.
Documents made available to Islands Business showed that Pacific ACP countries view the global sourcing concession under its rules of origin provision already offered to them by the EU is immutable and cannot be re-negotiated.
This concession applies specifically to items labelled as HS tariff headings 1604 and 1605.
These refer to canned tuna and processed tuna loins. Under this concession, Pacific members of the ACP could export canned tuna or processed tuna loins to the EU, so long as they are processed in the Pacific. Where the raw fish was fished or by whom is irrelevant.
As signatories to an interim EPA, Papua New Guinea and Fiji (once it ratifies its I-EPA) could access this facility. However, in their push for a comprehensive EPA with the EU, smaller members of the Pacific ACP bloc particularly, want similar concessions for O304 and 0305, which are fish fillets and fish pieces.
The EU, on the other hand, reportedly countered that it would only consider negotiations on this front provided the Pacific ACP offers access into their fishing waters and that the fish species be limited only to tuna.
Both counter proposals were rejected by the Trade Ministers at their meeting in PNG in early August. They said fishing access was not on the table, although this could be pursued bilaterally between the EU and any interested Pacific ACP member. The Pacific also wants the EU to remove limitations on the concession to tuna species only. Already the word from Brussels is that the Pacific would be in for a tough fight.
Addressing the Port Moresby meeting of Pacific ACP Trade Ministers, acting head of Delegation of the European Union in PNG, Dr Kay Beese said the EU understands why global sourcing for fresh and frozen fish is an “important objective” of some islands in the Pacific. An EPA without such a provision would be of little interest to you, Dr Beese said.
“At the same time, you are aware that the provisions on global sourcing, which are part of the interim agreement, have become the subject of significant controversy between some of the European Union stakeholders.
“This controversy also dominated the recent Parliamentary ratification process in the European Union.” Dr Beese urged Pacific members of the ACP to wait for the outcome of a study the EU is jointly conducting with the PNG Government about the implementation of global sourcing under its interim EPA.
Outcome of the study would be available in mid-December, and until that is available, Dr Beese warned it would be difficult for the EU to start talking about extending the global sourcing provision to fresh and frozen fish.

On Tuna Fishing, Green Peace briefly outlines the matters of concern, with respect to sustainability. 
(Video posted below)

Radio NZ podcasts covers the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.

Club Em Designs

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Question Of Trust. (Updated)

In a follow up to a March 2008 SiFM posting, that highlighted the issue of Fiji veterans regarding their claims. The veterans were subsequently hung out to dry during the 1956 "Operations Grapple" .

Video of actual Operation Grapple, posted below.

Recently, the Fiji Veterans of the Christmas Island won their legal battle, according to a Fiji Times article. The excerpt of F.T article:

Veterans win case

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Justice at last ... Jone Tabaiwalu with his wife, Kacaraini Bolalevu, and daughter Lanieta Valeloloneirokotuibau at their Nasinu home yesterday. Picture: SITIVENI MOCE.

FIFTY years after the British conducted nuclear tests on Christmas Island, surviving Fiji veterans will be compensated after a British court decision ruled in their favour for compensation for ill effects they suffered.

The 60 survivors from the 289 servicemen who took part the tests between 1952 and 1958 will converge in Suva on Tuesday to decide on compensation.

"It's been a long struggle and many have gone. This is the first time for Fiji and the world where we can sue a government for the ill effects of such tests," said Jone Tabaiwalu, president of the Fiji Nuclear Test Association.

Delivering his judgment on the case at Room 73 of the London Royal Court of Justice on Friday (Fiji time), Justice David Foskett rejected arguments by the Ministry of Defence that the claims should be thrown out because they were outside the three-year time limit.

Nuclear test veteran Pita Rokoratu was accompanied by association counsel Adi Lusiana Sivo Ganilau to London earlier this year to testify in court.

The British Government were also recently forced to acknowledge the plights of retired Gurkha soldiers and allowing them to reside in the United Kingdom, according to the Guardian newspaper. The excerpt of the Guardian article:

Gurkhas win right to settle in UK

Lumley campaign succeeds as Home Office rewrites rules to give veterans with four years' service permanent residency

Gurkha veterans were today given the right to settle in the UK after an extraordinary campaign led by the actor Joanna Lumley.

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, completed the expected U-turn by confirming that veterans who had served four years or more, their wives and dependent children could apply to come to Britain.

She said the move "recognises the unique nature" of the soldiers' service and was consistent with the government's broader immigration policy.

Lumley, who joined with Gurkhas outside the Commons to hear the announcement, praised Gordon Brown for his "brave" decision on behalf of "the bravest of the brave".

"A great injustice has been righted. The Gurkhas are coming home. ..It is a day of such exhilaration. I can hardly believe it."

Lumley, who had been briefed on the announcement in advance, visited Brown at Downing Street earlier and met Phil Woolas, the immigration minister last night, said: "It is wretched that the government has taken so long but we must remember that this is the first administration to take action. Consecutive governments ignored us, so we owe a lot to them."

Smith will reverse government guidance issued last month that made the obstacles to entry almost insurmountable for many ordinary Gurkha soldiers, who are traditionally recruited from Nepal.

Smith is changing the rules to allow entry into the UK for Gurkhas previously excluded because they retired from the regiment before 1997, provided they have served with the British army for at least four years.

She promised 1,400 outstanding applications would be processed "as a matter of urgency''.

Smith told the Commons: "Generations of Gurkhas have served the United Kingdom with great courage, sacrifice and distinction and they continue to make a vital and valued contribution to our operations around the world."

Smith said she expected up to 15,000 Gurkhas would come to Britain over the next two years, but they would not get the same pension rights as those who retired after 1997.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, whose Commons motion led directly to the rapid change of heart by ministers, said: "Gordon Brown has finally woken up to the principle that people across Britain understand instinctively: if someone is prepared to die for this country, they must be allowed to live in it.

"Tragically this decision will come too late for many of those brave Gurkhas who have been waiting so long to see justice done.

"Gordon Brown's claim of a 'moral compass' rings hollow when, on every issue from Gurkhas to expenses, he has to be dragged every inch of the way towards doing the right thing."

Chris Grayling , the shadow home secretary, said: "First and foremost this case has been about basic decency. People from around the world have to come to live in this country in the past decade.

"There was never a justification to deny that right to a group of people who have lived long in the nation's affections, and who have risked and often given their lives for its protection.

"It is just a shame that the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts and then through the crowds of Gurkhas outside parliament before it finally did the right thing."

The turnaround came after the government suffered its first big defeat last month by 21 votes, as 27 Labour rebels joined the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in demanding equal residency rights for all Gurkha soldiers.

Al Jazeera news footage (posted below)capture the elated reactions of the retired Gurkhas, once the news of the decision became public.

The British Government is also not the only country forced to re-look and re-engineer their policy on veteran's welfare and related affairs. US veterans are in no better position than their Atlantic allies, considering the Walter Reed fiasco. A Waco Tribune article reports that an army veteran is living in a shed.

In 2001, the French Government was also forced to examine the past injustices on migrant soldiers from Africa, according to a BBC news article.

The French case of injustice to veterans were dramatized in a wonderful movie titled "Days Of Glory". The trailer of the movie is posted below.

While the issue of pensions have been addressed by the UK and French Courts. What is interesting, is the subject of pensions also intersects the abuse trust and finances.

On The Media (OTM) podcast titled "Grade Inflation" examines the role of Ratings Agencies and their role in the sub-prime fiasco, where numerous pension funds had invested in, on account of the flawed AAA ratings, allocated to the mortgage backed securities. Podcast available on player below.

This American Life (T.I.A)podcast also raises the issue of trust among those rating agencies, that seemed to have grossly failed on many different occasions and many different levels; resulting in the most catastrophic economic meltdowns in the world's history.

Trust was a commodity in short supply, as the economic balloon began inflating; as the banks and mortgage brokers went on a high-stakes binge, fueled by the greed of Wall Street and the collusion of Federal regulating institutions. US President Barack Obama is keenly aware of the failure of regulation and his latest proposal to reform the financial industry, was unveiled by Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner.

CQ Politics article outlines the role, some of Obama's financial advisers played in the creating the perfect storm of economic calamity.
According to Los Angeles Times article, Wall Street is not buying it; Wall Street are also wary of their reputation among the middle class who have seen their equity and pension plans wither before their very eyes.

The subject of trustworthiness of regulators, as T.I.A outlined in the podcast, also has bearing in Fiji; with respect to 283 pending cases against Fiji Lawyers, as a Fiji Live article reports.

The excerpt of the F.L article:

New unit to probe Fiji lawyers
June 12, 2009 08:20:49 AM

A special unit within the office of the Chief Registrar will be set up to investigate the 283 pending cases against lawyers.

This follows the downgrading of the Fiji Law Society to a voluntary body with the issuance of the Legal Practitioners Decree.

Acting Chief Registrar Ana Rokomokoti said her office receives five complaints per day on average against lawyers. “Some of the complaints lodged against lawyers dates back to 2000 which were pending before the Fiji Law Society for action,” she told FijiLive.

The complaints against lawyers include malpractice, misconduct, deliberate attempts to delay cases, trust fund account violations, incompetence, negligence, discrepancy with costs charged to clients, failure to follow client’s instructions and failure to communicate with clients.

Raw Fiji News blog posting, also raises the issue about Twitter and its use in Fiji, implying that Iran's situation was similar to Fiji.

In a rather adequate response to that RFN claim, was neatly addressed by a Michael Madden's post on Salon.
Not long ago, Republicans were talking about attacking Iran. Now they think Obama doesn't love Iran enough

Undeniably, those like the Republicans, are queuing up to capitalize on Iran's domestic situation, to shore up their own political position in Fiji; which raises the trust issue yet again.

Croz Walsh latest blog posting, addresses the issue of Trust, in deciphering the intentions of the Trans-Tasman nations, as friendly or unfriendly in their engagements with Fiji. An OP-Ed by World has accurately outlined the back ground story of Fiji's political situation.

One concerning aspect of the recent foreign policy of both Trans-Tasman nations, is their incessant megaphone diplomacy in the region; as if the island states within the area were
an extension of their empire and more recently NZ Foreign Minister had to poke his nose into the recent developments in Iran.

The neo-colonist interference by these Trans-Tasman bullies is multi-faceted. One thrust is to poison the Sino-Viti bi-lateral relationship, as reported in Australian Network News article.

The other, constant hectoring through the media-the Australian and New Zealand media.
If criticizing Fiji was a favorite past time, both Trans-Tasman nations would take the prize as being the most vocal and belligerent.

Even Micheal Field the disgraced journalist, was among those echoing the news of S & P down grading the investment ratings of Fiji. Ironically, it was S & P among other agencies, which gave the Mortgage backed Securities an AAA rating and the end result is the quantitative easing, of the Global Financial Collapse. This whole affair brings us back to the question of Trust and the abuse of it by these ratings agencies.

Although, both Australian and New Zealand's Foreign Minister were quoted in NZ radio web article, as being concerned about Fiji's economy, because it was allegedly on the decline; what was omitted was that, their own economies are also being disintegrated by the Global Financial Collapse, according to Bloomberg.

What is not being questioned, is the Trans-Tasman moves to fast-track the highly controversial PACER-Plus negotiations for a Free-Trade deal with the Pacific Islands.

An ABC Australia web article quotes from Australian Trade Minister, Simon Crean who has a pollyannic outlook on the PACER-Plus negotiations in Apia and often used the buzz words: "level of trust", "capacity building", "genuinely desire to make this work".

These sultry words are almost equivalent to the one-liners, used by Wall Street Brokers to sell junk bonds to the unaware. Undoubtedly, the Australia Trade Minister, Simon Crean comes across in the ABC interview; as the type of person, who sells steak knives and food processing equipment on late night TV.

The excerpt of ABC article:

Varied reaction to PACER Plus negotiation timeline

Australian Trade Minister Simon <span class=Crean is strongly in favour of Pacific free trade negotiations. [ABC]" title="Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean is strongly in favour of Pacific free trade negotiations. [ABC]">

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean is strongly in favour of Pacific free trade negotiations. [ABC]

AUDIO from Pacific Beat

Pacific trade

Created: Thu, 18 Jun 2009 12:51:40 GMT-0700

Jemima Garrett

Last Updated: Fri, 19 Jun 2009 14:50:00 +1000

Samoa's Associate Trade Minister Jo Keil says all the Ministers at the Pacific Trade Ministers meeting in Apia are happy with the decision to recommend that negotiations for a PACER Plus trade agreement begin this year.

A joint statement issued by the Ministers stressed the importance of progressing PACER Plus as a means of underpinning the economic security of the region.

Samoan Minister Jo Keil said all the ministers were happy with the decision to recommend negotiations start this year.

"Very friendly and very good," he said. "I was there, we were there the whole time and we got along very well - the ministers were all friends." Pacific Australian and New Zealand civil society organisations represented in Apia say the Pacific ministers conceded too much to Australia and New Zealand.

Spokesperson Maureen Penjuelli said none of their concerns had been addressed. The organisations will ask Pacific leaders to use their meeting in Cairns in August to delay PACER negotiations.

ABC podcast (posted below in MP3 player) interviews the Samoan Associate Trade Minister, Joe Keil and PANG Coordinator, Maureen Penjuelli. Both interviewees were present at the Apia Trade talks. However, Penijuelli who met with several other Trade Ministers found a sense of disappointment among them. The PANG Coordinator also disputes the label of general concensus, as described by the Australian and Samoan Trade Minister.

Fiji, one the largest economies in the region was recently excluded from the recent talks held in Apia, Western Samoa as reported in Fiji Live article, including the reaction from the Interim Attorney General.

The excerpt of F.L article:

Fiji regrets trade talk exclusion: AG

June 20, 2009 03:21:01 PM

Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has labeled as “regretful” Fiji’s exclusion from regional trade talks in Samoa, which ends today and questioned the motives of big brothers Australia and New Zealand.

“Fiji’s exclusion from regional trade talks has the potential to adversely impact on the country’s economic development by affecting its regional trade and economic integration, thereby hurting its most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens,” Sayed Khaiyum said today in a statement.

“Fiji is a party to PACER (Pacific Closer Economic Relations) having signed and ratified the Agreement in 2001. The decision to exclude Fiji from discussions under PACER is a violation of her rights under the treaty," he added.

"Any decisions reached by the Forum members in the absence of Fiji on PACER are legally challengeable under the principle of ‘consensus’ espoused by the treaty and the Pacific Islands Forum in general and will not be legally binding on Fiji.

European Union funded trade talks among members of the Pacific Islands Forum had kicked off in Samoa on June 6, a two weeks event which excluded Fiji. This was a direct result of its suspension in April from Forum membership. Sayed-Khaiyum said it was a regret that Fiji, being one of the founding members of the Forum, had to be excluded from these talks.

Fiji Times article also reports on the reaction of Fiji's Government.

Whether or not these neighbours are genuinely concerned about the welfare of the inhabitants is highly questionable. What these Trans-Tasman nations have banked their hopes on and the recovery of their own domestic economies is, the trade with Pacific Island nations and the most convenient vehicle to back their budgetary projections on, is cementing these free-trade deals with the Pacific Island states, whether they want it or not.

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