Storm Clouds Gather over the Pacific Forum Meeting
Media Release: Arena
Sunday August 2 2009.
Storm Clouds Gather over the Pacific Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Cairns
“This year, the Australian and New Zealand governments may have pushed Pacific Leaders too far in their determination to launch free trade talks three years ahead of schedule”, warns Dr Jane Kelsey on behalf of ARENA-NZ, who is in Cairns ahead of the talks.
Suva based Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) has just published Speaking Truth to Power: Australian and New Zealand use of power politics to launch Pacific free trade negotiations
This behind-the-scenes exposé is based on first hand reports from officials, ministers and advisers, along with formal documentation.
It shows how the region’s two dominant powers and donors systematically constructed a ‘consensus’ to start free trade negotiations under the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER), Dr Kelsey said.
Trade ministers from across the region are still smarting from being ambushed by Australia and New Zealand at their annual meeting in Apia last month.
Australia’s Simon Crean and New Zealand’s Tim Groser, facilitated by Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni, hijacked the two day meeting, by whisking the ministers away to an informal lunch.
Five hours later, they agreed that negotiations on “PACER-Plus” would begin following this week’s Leaders meeting in Cairns. In doing so, Island governments gave away almost all the ground they had been fighting for over the past year.
Four state parties to PACER were excluded from this lunch. Vanuatu, Nauru and Marshall Islands were not invited because they were represented by senior officials, not ministers.
Fiji was not allowed to attend the Apia meeting, despite a clear legal position that its suspension from the Forum does not affect its rights as a state party to PACER and that decisions made in Fiji’s forced absence are not legally valid.
“Australia and New Zealand have thrown legalities out the window”, says Dr Kelsey.
“They have ignored Fiji’s formal request for consultations under PACER. Australia is now pretending that talks on PACER-Plus are legally distinct from PACER. That is totally disingenuous. Last month’s agenda item on PACER-Plus in Apia referred explicitly to Article 6 of PACER.”
“The Solomon Islands has formally endorsed the legal argument of Fiji that it is entitled to participate in all meetings of the state parties to PACER and decisions made in their absence are invalid.”
“The scene is set for a show down. If Australia and New Zealand come out on top, the Forum’s foundations will become even more fragile than they are now,” said Dr Kelsey.