Jun 26, 2017 Last Updated 2:11 PM, Jun 12, 2017

THE regional free trade agreement, known as PACER-Plus was concluded last month in Brisbane, Australia. As usual, such events are met with great fan-fare and congratulatory press releases. New Zealand called the deal “historic”, the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA) described it as a “landmark” deal, Australia went on to say that the increased trade will be “generating growth, jobs and raising living standards”.

Overshadowing all the praise was the elephant in the room, or more precisely the elephant not in the room. Papua New Guinea withdrew from the negotiations in 2016 citing the proposed agreement as a ‘net loss’ for PNG. Fiji, who had been harbouring concerns about the protections for its infant industries and their ability to pursue better trade deals with other countries, was also not in attendance apparently not for want of trying.

The absence of the two biggest Pacific Island economies cuts through the hyperbole of PACER-Plus exposing the ugly fact that if the two most developed Island countries aren’t able to benefit from the agreement then how will those with less capacity. PACER-Plus has never been about the Pacific despite the reassurances of Australia and New Zealand.

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WHEN Pacific Islands Forum Leaders gathered in Apia, Samoa, in 1978, the then Prime Minister Honourable Tupuola Efi said: “The basic question that faces us, is that of deciding how to re-define the rules to assure that the rights of small nations are adequately protected.

The guts of the issue is that we are small. We have to define the rules as we see them to protect our interests”. Forty years on, these sentiments remain key to our regional development considerations, as economic and social developmental challenges, exacerbated by the impact of climate change, require innovative approaches in the design and implementation of economic policies.

They were at the heart of the recently concluded Pacific Islands Forum Economic Ministers Meeting (FEMM) which was themed Finance for Development Solutions. Addressing economic vulnerabilities is crucial given the Pacific’s inherent geographical isolation and distance from major global markets, dispersed population across islands, and narrow economic bases.

While addressing barriers to inclusive progress has been a natural part of development efforts, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders and Ministers are also considering options for sustainable approaches to weaning themselves off external fund dependency, particularly in terms of disaster preparedness. A few days before the week-long 2017 FEMM, a new $USD29.73million regional.....

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Pacific exports increase

Exports Survey has found that business confidence among Pacific Island exporters has increased since 2014 with a growth in actual export numbers despite a decline in export destinations. Commissioned by Pacific Trade Investment (PTI) Australia and conducted by ACA Research of North Sydney with Australian aid-funding, the Pacific Islands Export Survey 2016 is an important window into the activities and opinions of exporters from the Pacific Islands. The report is currently the only major survey of internationally active Pacific Island businesses and is based on data from Pacific Island export companies from 12 island countries, operating in over 30 international markets.

The survey reported the following key findings:

• Export confidence is very positive and continues to grow with three in four businesses predicting that their export orders will increase over the next 12 months.

• Exporters still face numerous barriers. A major challenge for exporters is obtaining finance/capital with two in three exporters stating this as a concern, this issue is more prevalent for newer exporters.

• Although the total volume of exports has grown from the 2014 survey, the number of countries exported to has decreased.

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SPC, 70 years on

THIS year marks the 70th Anniversary of the Pacific Community – SPC, and we are excited at the timely opportunity to reflect and celebrate the shared progress we have made with our members and partners over the years. Seventy years ago, the Pacific Community was established by treaty. The Canberra Agreement was signed by the governments of Australia, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States of America in 1947 establishing the organization that came to be known as the South Pacific Commission (SPC), and today – the Pacific Community (SPC).

The organisation was created to support the administration and welfare of dependent Pacific Island territories and protectorates and bring stability to the Pacific after the turbulence of World War II. In continued commitment and partnership, France agreed to host SPC headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia, where they continue to operate today, after moving from their temporary location in Sydney in 1949. Seventy years on, through enduring collaboration, cooperation and partnership, SPC has grown into one of the primary regional bodies contributing to the development of the Pacific Island region.

This is testimony to the strong leadership, commitment, and effective governance of its members and partners to build and shape their development organization with a strong shared regional vision and purpose for a prosperous and resilient Pacific. With a regional hub hosted by the Government of Fiji, SPC also has offices in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (MSG) and Federated States of Micronesia improving our physical presence, sub-regionally and nationally, and strengthening on-going engagement.

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The clock ticks

Indonesia fails media test in West Papua

JUST five months before Indonesia is set to host UNESCO’s 2017 celebration of World Press Freedom Day, its government still has not met a regional human rights watchdog’s demands to address press freedom violations in the country’s restive West Papua province.

Upon the announcement in July that UNESCO would mark May 3, 2017 with a conference in Jakarta, the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) set that date as a deadline for Indonesia’s government to “ensure that there is open access to West Papua for foreign media, and an end to abuses against local media”.

However, the government has rejected that demand. In July, the Minister Counsellor at Indonesia’s embassy in New Zealand, Wanton Saragih, argued that great strides forward in terms of press freedom in West Papua have been made under the current administration, including a lift on the ban against foreign journalists. Last year, all foreign journalists’ visa applications to West Papua were reportedly approved, including a request by Radio New Zealand International reporter Johnny Blades.

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