A Melanesian Free Trade Agreement has been reached following negotiations in Vanuatu this week.
Trade Ministers and officials from member countries of the Melanesian Spearhead Group endorsed the conclusion of three years of negotiations at the 5th MSG Trade Ministers meeting in Port Vila.
The meeting's chair, the Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Milner Tozaka said the endorsement was a milestone achievement which would see the establishment of a Melanesian Free Trade Area by 2017.
The MSG's Program Manager of Trade and Investment, John Licht said revisions extend the agreement from exclusively covering goods to include trade in services, labour mobility and cross-border investments.
"We are confident that we have come up with a better trade agreement a much more improved, refined, comprehensive trade agreement that can provide for opportunities in each member country for those who want to trade not just in goods but also in other sectors for a better future for the people of Melanesia," he said.
John Licht said while this would initially only cover MSG member countries there was scope for expansion.
"This agreement is not only confined to the MSG members within the MSG territory it is also open to third parties. Countries that are not party to the MSG can also join the trade agreement if they wish pending one or two requirements on the trade intergrations. So it is open to third parties as well to join the agreement," he said.
Once signed by leaders later this year, the new trade agreement will be subject to national ratification processes with January 1st as the date for when it will come in to force.