Call for more time to assess Pacific trade deal

RNZ reports there's been a call for more time to be given to Pacific civil society organisations and the private sector to assess the proposed regional free trade deal known as PACER Plus.

The full text of the proposed deal has been made available online only a few weeks out from the planned signing ceremony to be held in Tonga on the 14th of this month.

A trade justice campaigner for the Pacific Network on Globalisation, Adam Wolfenden, said there was simply not enough time for an independent assessment of the proposed agreement.

Mr Wolfenden said the extremely complex legal document would have a massive impact on a cross section of society in the Pacific.

He said all of these people had a right to know, in language that they can understand, exactly what it was their governments would be signing them up for.

"Having less than two weeks to examine over a thousand pages of legal text is woefully inadequate for civil society and the private sector to have meaningful engagement in any form of consultation on this text," he explained.

"And so we're calling for the decision and the ceremony to be postponed until there's been not only adequate time to assess the implications of Pacer Plus, but also undertake adequate consultation processes to ensure that everyone can have a say."

Trade deal could seal Australia and New Zealand's regional dominance

The Pacific Network on Globalisation also holds fears that PACER Plus could seal Australia and New Zealand's economic dominance in the region.

Mr Wolfenden said an initial glance has confirmed a lot of the misgivings that trade experts had about the deal.

Mr Wolfenden said Pacific signatories to the agreement would effectively be locking themselves into trade arrangements designed to ensure Australia and New Zealand interests in the region are protected.

He said he believed some of the more binding clauses of the agreement are the reason two of the region's largest trading countries Fiji and Papua New Guinea have said they would not be signing onto PACER Plus.

"So if say Fiji or any country wanted to find an agreement with Malaysia or Indonesia or any of those countries. They would automatically have to give whatever benefits they give to those countries to Australia and New Zealand," Mr Wolfenden said.

"So again we see this as very much about Australia and New Zealand really trying to lock in their dominance over the region. Regardless of whether or not that is actually in the interest of the Pacific."

The Pacific Network on Globalisation is calling for the planned signing to be postponed until an independent social impact assessment of PACER Plus can be conducted and more consultations can be held with Pacific civil society and the private sector.

Photo: PANG Adam Wolfenden