Informal meetings between Pacific island trade officials and their Australian and New Zealand counterparts have been underway since mid 2008. Behind closed doors, trade officials have sought to define a mutually acceptable structure to commence formal discussions. Australia and New Zealand are evidently frustrated at the pace of proceedings. The Pacific island countries, without the same hang ups about time and potentially more at stake, are adamant there should be a phased approach to entering into negotiations. In the public arena, the debate has forged ahead with many interpreting PACER Plus as a free trade agreement. Others simply argue against any new trading arrangements between the Pacific islands and their bigger regional neighbours. This paper attempts to focus the discussion to address the fundamental question: What should a Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations between the Pacific island countries, Australia and New Zealand entail?
See below for some of the key emerging themes of The Art of Negotiation:
- PACER Plus is essentially a blank canvas waiting to be painted jointly by FIC and ANZ parties.
- » Pacific island trade officials want to be fully prepared before sitting down at the bargaining table.
- » Australia and New Zealand consider it essential to commence formal negotiation talks sooner rather thanlater so as to give a political mandate to talks.
- » A notable lesson from the EPA negotiations with Europe was that the Pacific island countries should have been much better prepared in terms of trade policy and defining national priorities.
- » To date the public debate on trade issues has been influenced mostly by a select group of non-governmental organisations that ardently oppose trade liberalisation.
- » Capacity building and research support are welcome initiatives, but will only have tangible results if there is Pacific ownership and political will behind them.
- » Freer trade is not a panacea.