Speaking at the Centre for International Development annual conference earlier this week in Wellington on the topic of New Zealand’s Pacific Reset, he said the obligations on parties to PACER Plus were costly to implement, binding and endured as long as the agreement was in force.
“To expect a country like the Cook Islands, with very little in the way of exports to take on those implementation costs without assistance through the PACER Plus ODA implementation package is untenable.
The Cook Islands signed the regional trade deal in Nuku’alofa last year alongside 9 other countries – Australia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu – with Vanuatu adding its name to the Agreement several months later.
The Agreement was signed after nine years of negotiations, and was unique in that it aimed to boost trade and development amongst signatories, with an accompanying development package of $A$25.5 million and a commitment to target 20 per cent of Australia and New Zealand’s official development assistance (ODA) towards Aid for Trade in the Pacific.
“For the Cook Islands, a country with a trading environment that is already over 90 per cent liberalised, the development package and Aid for Trade commitment from Australia and New Zealand was a significant consideration in Government’s decision to sign PACER Plus”, says Foreign Affairs and Immigration secretary Tepaeru Herrmann.
“Cook Islands exports already have duty free access into other Pacific Island countries through the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), and with the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA) we have duty free access into New Zealand and Australia.
“As a country that imports the bulk of what it consumes, the “plus” component of PACER plus was the development package for signatories which for the Cook Islands could assist strengthen export capabilities and trade facilitation mechanisms which it was anticipated would provide in future years, investment and trade opportunities for Cook Islands businesses.”
Since signing the agreement last year, much of the efforts of signatories have focused on ratification to bring the agreement into effect, says Herrmann.
Senior trade officials including from the Cook Islands met in Honiara earlier this month to discuss the modalities for implementation of PACER Plus, and the obligations under the Agreement once it enters into force.
“During discussions, it became evident it was unclear whether the Cook Islands would still be eligible for the PACER Plus ODA implementation package, should it graduate from developing to developed status under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development criteria.”
Brown said the government had put ratification of PACER Plus on hold whilst it reviewed the implications of ODA graduation on the Cook Islands’ obligations and entitlements under PACER Plus.