Boosting trade and labour mobility within the Melanesian bloc took a firm step forward at Nadi yesterday.
A firm commitment was made by Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands to make the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Free Trade Agreement a priority.
As the first trade ministers meeting ended last evening, these countries pledged commitment towards increasing trade first amongst MSG member countries, then other countries.
The meeting at the Sofitel Resort at Denarau, Nadi, was chaired by Fiji’s Trade Minister, the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
It signalled yet another success during Fiji’s term leading the MSG, which groups the region’s biggest independent economies and countries.
The outcome included key trade issues and the revamping of the MSG trade agreement.
Strong words were also spoken about the ineffectiveness of the PACER Plus agreement and trading with Australia and New Zealand.
Commitments have also been made to broaden the MSG agreement to include investment between member countries and labour mobility.
Solomon Islands has also informed the group of their commitment to liberalise and remove all tariffs placed on MSG member countries by 2017.
Papua New Guinea brought to the table talks to recruit nurses and teachers from member countries.
All these discussions and the outcomes would be presented to the coming leaders’ summit in Noumea.
Commitments have also been made amongst the four countries to make the MSG trade agreement the largest trading bloc and the most influential in the region.
Papua New Guinea is reviewing participation in the PACER Plus regional agreement driven by Australia and New Zealand.
Trade Minister Richard Maro said if they enter into PACER Plus trading agreements, they would be in a one-sided trade scenario.
“What’s the point in going into a trading arrangement with Australia and New Zealand?” he asked.
“There is nothing to be gained for us, so rather than wasting time on it, let’s focus on what’s important for us and that is the MSG trading bloc.
“I think there is mutuality in this one and that is what we are going to focus our attention, efforts and resources on.”
Vanuatu trade minister Mercellino Pipite said he would be taking the matter regarding PACER Plus back to his Government.
“I will discuss the issue of PACER Plus with our Government and if it is not working with what we need in our country, we will maximize the use of MSG trade agreement.”
Fiji is also of the view that trade to be strengthened within MSG member countries.
“We would like to essentially highlight the prominence to be given to MSG.
“You have to be strong and be able to function amongst your peers first then you can include those from the outside. Fiji would be working through those positions,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
Solomon Islands has voiced their commitment towards prioritising trade amongst MSG countries.
Mr Maru said PNG was facing shortage of nurses and teachers. He said they have had discussions with Fiji regarding this.
“The benefits of this trade agreement are going beyond the trading of goods.
“For example, in PNG, we are really short of nurses and teachers. We have just made the decision to lift the ban on foreign nurses and teachers coming and we are looking to the Pacific Islands to fill the gaps.Rather than us going to Australia and New Zealand, we are looking at the islands to come and fill up the opportunities that are available.”
The trade ministers finalised the outcomes and their discussions on an MSG trade agreement three.
This would now need leaders’ endorsement at the summit in New Caledonia.
(Source: Fiji Sun)