Honorable Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade, Hon. Ham Lini
Co-Chairs for this Dialogue, representing PIANGO and PIPSO
Forum Member representatives from Ministries responsible for trade, the Civil Society and the Private Sector
Regional Civil Society and Private Sector Organisations
Distinguished guests, colleagues and friends
On behalf of the Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, I welcome you to the Seventh Non State Actors Dialogue on PACER Plus. Let me acknowledge the hospitality and courtesies extended to us by the Government and the people of Vanuatu.
This seventh Dialogue is part of a series of similar consultations we have organised over the years, since 2010, in collaboration with the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA), and with the support of the Forum Members as a way to strengthen communication between stakeholders on issues pertaining to trade and economic cooperation in the region, particularly on the PACER Plus negotiations. The continued participation of the Non-Government Organisations, and the representatives from the civil society and private sectors is appreciated.
On 20 April 2017, Ministers responsible for trade from 14 Forum Members agreed to conclude the PACER Plus negotiations, and finalise the legal text of the PACER Plus Agreement following intense negotiations over the past eight years. In 2009, Forum Leaders agreed to the commencement of the negotiations on a PACER Plus arrangement in recognition of the opportunities that such a trade and economic development agreement would provide for prosperity in the region.
Forum Leaders have been provided regular updates on the negotiations since its launching in 2009, who have renewed their commitment to the PACER Plus negotiations as an instrument for promoting regional integration in the Pacific and assisting Forum Island Countries to achieve robust economic growth and sustainable development.
In 2016 Leaders reiterated the need for PACER Plus to promote regional integration in the Pacific, and welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on all fifteen chapters of the PACER Plus text and called on all parties to continue to demonstrate good will and flexibility. Furthermore, Leaders noted that the conclusions and recommendations of the Sustainable Impact Assessment prepared by the OCTA in consultation with relevant stakeholders, would be used as a basis for ongoing engagement with stakeholders on the possible economic, social and environmental impacts of trade liberalisation under the PACER Plus.
Much work has been done over the past months in bringing the PACER Plus negotiations to conclusion, and I take this opportunity to commend the efforts of the negotiators. The Trade Ministers at their gathering in Brisbane in April agreed that the legal verification of the text be completed, to allow for the signing ceremony to take place in June 2017, now confirmed for 14 June in Tonga. I am pleased to inform you that the final text of the PACER Plus Agreement has been cleared by the negotiating parties for public release today. As participants at the Dialogue today, you will be the first to receive a comprehensive update on the final negotiated Agreement so that we have a well-informed discussion on the provisions of the PACER Plus.
PACER Plus provides an avenue for strengthened regionalism through enhanced regional cooperation and integration that can contribute to the development of the Pacific Island Countries by stimulating more trade and investment in the region, thereby creating more business opportunities, stronger economic growth and more jobs. We need to be proactive in using PACER Plus to deal with hurdles and deliver positive results.
It is also our duty to ensure that Regionalism driven through PACER Plus is inclusive, and relevant to all people across the Pacific. The concerns and issues of all people, including Pacific citizens, civil society, the private sector, religious and faith-based institutions, academics and scholars, must inform the identification and delivery of actions for regional integration. Regionalism is not only desirable, but essential to address common challenges, derive collective benefit from our shared resources, and leverage our collective, regional voice on the global stage as our economies increasingly become part of the global economy. For instance, the widening of the Forum Membership also represents opportunities that we should explore.
Let me conclude by saying that I encourage you all to be probing and explore how best the PACER Plus Agreement can assist you in your venture. Our focus needs to shift towards the implementation of the Agreement. At this Dialogue, we are also accompanied by the Pacific Islands Trade and Invest (PT&I) promotion team based in Australia and New Zealand, so that they can design initiatives to support the Forum Island Countries to attract investments and export under PACER Plus. The Forum Secretariat will be guided by the Members on the support they see being provided by the Secretariat on the way forward.
I wish to thank the Chief Trade Adviser and his team for the preparations they have done for this Dialogue, and the negotiators for your contributions. Our gratitude also goes to the Governments of Australia and New Zealand for funding this Dialogue and also to the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) for availing their representatives for co-facilitate this Dialogue. I thank you for your engagement in the Dialogue, and wish you well in the deliberations ahead.