30 Aug 2016

Pacific countries U-turn on seasonal work arrangements

3:58 pm on 30 August 2016

Pacific Islands countries have reversed their position on proposals to make seasonal labour mobility in the region part of a trade deal.

The countries had been seeking a legally binding agreement on labour mobility as part of negotiations around a new trade deal, PACER- Plus.

Meetings on Pacific labour mobility arrangements with Australia and New Zealand, which give unskilled workers from Pacific Island countries seasonal work visas, were held last week in New Zealand ahead of the latest rounds of talks on PACER-Plus.

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Seasonal workers often work picking fruit in orchards as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. Photo: RNZ/Johnny Blades

At the meeting all parties agreed to have the respective Australian and New Zealand labour mobility schemes remain under non-legally binding arrangements.

Joseph Ma'ahanua, who is also the permanent secretary of Solomon Islands trade ministry, said Pacific Island countries changed their position to ensure the arrangement remains exclusive.

"If they were to have a legally binding agreement with us they would be compelled to negotiate legally binding agreements with say for instance Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam," he said.

"And the people they would bring from these countries would cost them less to have them brought in in contrast to our people, so that we would lose out if we were to go down that track."

Meanwhile in last week's special meeting on PACER-Plus in Christchurch Forum trade ministers concluded seven years of negotiations on the legal text of the so called PACER-Plus agreement.

The ministers also committed to wrap up all negotiations on the remaining market access agreements by the end of October with the intention of signing off on the regional trade deal the end of the year.

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