Regional Meet on Trade Statistics from Preferential Trade Agreements

Suva, 22 February 2018

A lack of reliable trade statistics in the region is being further addressed through a week-long technical discussions on international merchandise trade statistics focusing on goods traded under preferential trade agreements. It will be jointly facilitated by the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Oceania Customs Organisation, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat, at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s Main Conference Room in Suva, Fiji from 26 February to 2 March 2018.

The workshop will provide an overview of trade agreements in general, how the agreements work and their benefits, and the range of commodities traded and how they can be identified at source for the compilation of official trade statistics.

Representatives of trade and border agencies will share practical approaches to improving access to, and the quality of, trade statistics in the region. Industry representatives will also have the opportunity to share their perspectives and first-hand experiences on exporting under preferential trade agreements as well as on the relevance of trade statistics for business planning purposes.

The Pacific region’s intra-regional trade is facilitated under a number of preferential trade treaties, namely the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA), the Melanesian Spearhead Group Trade Agreement (MSGTA), the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), and the Interim Economic Partnership Agreements. The new Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER+) has yet to enter in to force.

There is a deficiency of both international merchandise trade statistics and indicators that are result-focused, comprehensive enough to capture multiple dimensions of integration in our region. This has limited our regions’ ability to understand the regional integration dynamics, assess progress and provide for cohesive political direction.

The Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Cristelle Pratt, acknowledged the collaborative efforts of the organisers. “We need systematic processes in place to allow us to effectively monitor and evaluate the implementation of regional trade agreements in a manner that would inform practical trade policy development going forward,” Ms Pratt said. “Furthermore, the necessary data should be collated, analysed and disseminated to enable relevant stakeholders to assess the effects of the preferential arrangements, as well as provide policy makers with informed policy options.”

Nilima Lal, Economic Statistician from the Pacific Community, stated that a similar workshop had taken place in 2012, however, there were difficulties in sourcing the relevant data from the region.  Ms. Lal said the Pacific Community through its Statistics for Development Division is hoping that the gathering will be an opportunity for statistics compilers and border agencies to strengthen their collaboration, gather and identify the necessary information required to enable the sourcing of the correct data under the specific preferential trade arrangements.   

The Director General of the MSG Secretariat, Ambassador Amena Yauvoli, welcomed the opportunity of bringing together key stakeholders to collaborate on the compilation of trade data in support of regional policymaking.  “The workshop is aimed at equipping national trade and statistics officials with the necessary knowledge and skills to measure and analyse the effectiveness of the region’s preferential trade agreements,” Ambassador Yauvoli said. He added that this would make important contributions to the countries’ respective national strategies for the attainment of relevant Sustainable Development Goals. 

The Head of the OCO, Mr. Seve Paeniu stated “that the reality is that that many of our region’s customs administrations do not have the necessary skills and resources to update and nationalize their classification”. The Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) recognises the importance of implementation of the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) for tariffs and trade statistics including other purposes e.g. the rules of origin, economic research and analysis. The objective of a Pacific Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (PACHS), is to establish uniformity in the classification of goods amongst members and reflect key tradable commodities for the Pacific region is a necessity. The development of the PACHS 2017 is a result of collaboration with the technical agencies in the region and to progress this further, the OCO has also undertaken capacity building on HS 2017 for members to ensure a uniformed classification of goods aimed at promoting the simplification and trade facilitation in our region.

It is through these collaborative activities that will contribute to progressing the “Regional Statistics Initiatives”, a standing Agenda on the Forum Economic Ministers Meetings. It is envisaged that that this brings about an informed and more accurate identification and source of commodities traded under preferential trade agreements at the national level to allow for the consideration and endorsement of a Pacific Commodity Trade Database and a Regional Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for PTAs.

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