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Report Accuses Australia & NZ Of Bullying Pacific

Report Accuses Australia And NZ Of Bullying Pacific Islands

A report that is highly critical of Australia and New Zealand’s behaviour towards the Pacific Islands, Big Brothers Behaving Badly – The Implications of the PACER Agreement for the Pacific Islands, ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0404/S00030.htm) prepared by Auckland University Law Professor Jane Kelsey for the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG), was released today.

Copies are being presented to Trade Ministers from 14 Pacific Island countries who are in Papua New Guinea for talks on a proposed Regional Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. Australia and New Zealand’s Trade Ministers will join them for a Forum meeting on Thursday.

The report draws on official documents and extensive interviews with politicians, officials and consultants involved in negotiating the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER).

‘This is a story of how Australia and New Zealand bullied the Pacific Islands into an agreement they did not want and the problems that has created”, Professor Kelsey said.

After two years of bruising negotiations, what began as an agreement to achieve free trade among the Pacific Islands over a period of 10 years (PICTA) was subordinated to PACER. Without any assessment of its implications, the Islands promised to negotiate a free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand in 2011, or earlier if they began similar talks with the EU.

“Just two years on, Australia and New Zealand are insisting that PACER’s trigger has been pulled. They will argue again on Thursday that negotiations should now begin. The Island governments deny this and are vying for time while they work out how to minimise the risk from both sets of negotiations.”

“The events surrounding PACER have left a sour taste in the mouths of many Pacific politicians and officials and deepened existing tensions within the Pacific Forum. No-one should under-estimate the animosity felt towards Australia and New Zealand”, said Professor Kelsey.

“The Islands started down the free trade path in a way they thought was achievable and manageable. That opened a Pandora’s box. Now they face demands for free trade negotiations with Australia, New Zealand and the EU - on top of the Doha Round or WTO accessions for six of them. They simply won’t be able to cope technically, economically, socially or politically.”

Professor Kelsey expressed concern that the proposal for a Pacific Plan, which is expected to be a key recommendation of the Pacific Forum review that Leaders will discuss in Auckland on Tuesday, may become the Trojan horse for Australia and New Zealand to push for even deeper regional integration.

“It is no coincidence that recent parliamentary reports and political statements from both sides of the Tasman have promoted the idea of a neoliberal-style Pacific Economic Community. That has the potential to destroy the Pacific Islands”, she said.

The report suggests a number of strategies that would allow Pacific governments to draw back from the PACER process. It urges them to abandon the secrecy surrounding such negotiations and initiate a regional dialogue about alternative forms of cooperation that can address the serious challenges they face.

Professor Kelsey warns that if Australia and New Zealand continue exploiting their dominant position and imposing their agenda on the Pacific “they risk creating a platform for social and political chaos and chronic instability in what they see as their Pacific backyard”.

© Scoop Media

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