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The New Zealand trade minister Todd McClay says the Pacific regional trade agreement PACER Plus is as much about development as it is about trade.
Eight years of negotiations concluded in Australia yesterday with 14 countries due to sign the deal in Tonga in June.
Mclay told Ben Robinson Drawbridge PACER Plus includes 55 million New Zealand dollars in aid for Pacific island countries to realise their export potential.
TODD McCLAY: It's a historic agreement which gives better access for New Zealanders over time to the Pacific markets. But more importantly allows Pacific nations to deliver on their trade potential. We're committing significant resources to help them to get ready for this agreement. Pacific ministers are celebrating in Brisbane today.
BEN ROBINSON DRAWBRIDGE: Fifty-five million dollars to realise their export potential.
TM: That's right $55 million over about five years. This is a development and trade agreement. And we recognise that whilst trade will provide much more for Pacific Island economies at the same time we have to help them to get ready for some of the opportunities and benefits the agreement will deliver. So we will now sit down with them, post-signing to talk about how best this funding can be used, but it demonstrates a real commitment on the part of the New Zealand and Australian governments to making sure PACER Plus is more than a trade agreement - it delivers on development opportunities that the Pacific have been asking for.
BRD: Could that aid be delivered in terms of technical assistance?
TM: It will be in a number of ways. We need to have conversations with the countries concerned, but in some cases it will be our technical assistance, it will help them look at some of the ways they need to change some of their customs and biosecurity processes. It really means that their economies around trade can be modernised so they, not only, can sell more to Australia and New Zealand, but indeed they can trade more with the rest of the world.
BRD: Gradual tariff reductions for imports into Pacific Island countries, was that one of the reasons why the deal took so long?
TM: Well no, it wasn't in the end. When i took responsibility for PACER Plus a couple of years ago i was very keen that we got the development and trade balance right. These are some very small and vulnerable economies, so first and foremost we weren't looking to lower their tariff rates straight away. So there were some significant phase and periods of time so that these economies can benefit from trade but it's going to take a lot of effort and work on the part of all concerned in PACER Plus to make sure the opportunities are delivered on.
BRD: We've reported on potential dangers for nascent service providers in Pacific countries if their doors are flung open to service providers from bigger countries.
TM: Well, you know each country has had to look at their own domestic settings. We want to ensure that their economies can grow, but at the same time that there is good access for New Zealand companies to some of those markets. I think we've got the balance about right and certainly you should view the conclusion and signing of this agreement as the start of a trade process, not the end. It's in our interests, as much as the Pacific Island governments to make sure that we get it right. We want their economies to grow, they want to find greater self-sufficiency - PACER Plus will help deliver this.
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