12 May 2012

PACER-Plus talks gains momentum at meeting in Marshall Islands

9:04 am on 12 May 2012

A free-trade agreement between Australia and New Zealand and more than a dozen Pacific countries gained momentum at meetings in the Marshall Islands this week.

The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific, Richard Marles, at a press conference, said they are well on the way to developing the text for PACER Plus.

Mr Marles was referring to the free trade pact under negotiation known as the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations.

Both he and Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade said PACER Plus is not a conventional free trade treaty, and will take into account unique aspects of small Pacific island economies.

The free trade plan was first launched in 2001 but had languished until the pace of talks picked up last year.

Richard Marles said PACER Plus has always been a good idea, but it was an idea that was going nowhere fast.

He said from the meeting this week, we have now got action.

Mr Marles said draft texts on rules of origin, customs procedures, sanitary measures and trade barriers could be finished by the end of this year.

Labor mobility - access of Pacific islanders to Australia and New Zealand for work - and development assistance are two key areas where no consensus has been reached between island nations and their main aid partners New Zealand and Australia.

He added two meetings of trade officials that are scheduled for later this year in Vanuatu and Samoa will further flesh out the texts of these sections of the PACER Plus pact