A new chapter of closer intra-regional partnerships in the Pacific will help to boost Pacific States’ exports to the world, as this is the first time PIFS has deployed Trade Advisers into the sub-regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
This has been possible through the European Union (EU) funded SPIRIT project (‘Strengthening Pacific Intra-Regional and International Trade’) under the Pacific Regional Integration Support (PRISE) Programme.
Speaking at the signing of the Host Agreements between the Pacific Islands Forum (PIFS), the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Government of Tonga, Forum Deputy Secretary General Dr Filimon Manoni said that forging these partnerships signals “renewed hope and new beginnings for our region.” While the Trade Advisers for Melanesia and Polynesia have already been appointed, the appointment of the Trade Adviser for Micronesia will be finalised shortly.
“The significance of this event stretches far beyond just a signing ceremony of the Host Agreements between the PIFS with Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat and the Government of Tonga. With the reopening of borders in some countries and the anticipated boost to trade and tourism numbers, the Pacific region is expected to grow by 4.7% this year, an upward revision from 3.8%. However, we expect the post-pandemic economic recovery process to be slow and wrought with challenges,” Dr Manoni said. He said the timing of this strategic partnership “couldn’t be more apt for the region as we continue our uphill battle against the COVID19 pandemic.”
Each of the Trade Advisers is tasked to assist the Pacific States in their sub-regions of assignment to facilitate the design of sound trade policies, develop and implement aid for trade projects, and benefit from WTO and other trade agreements in a way that promotes sustainable businesses and create employment. For instance, they will help implement the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) signed between four Pacific States and the EU, including providing technical assistance to the other Pacific States, such as Tonga and Timor Leste, seeking to accede to the Agreement.
Chargé d’affaires/Acting Head of Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, Dr Erja Askola, expressed satisfaction with the programme: “The Pacific Regional Integration Support Programme is the EU’s largest programme of trade-related assistance in the Pacific ever, worth EUR 26.25 million or around FJD$60.5 million as a total. The European Union – itself a success story of regional integration – is proud to support Pacific partners in their own regional project towards better trade-connectivity. Today, I am delighted to witness the reinforcement of local capacities to make trade a real driver of development in the Pacific. This will make our Pacific partners better equipped to use the generous market access opportunities the EU offers”.
Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat Director General Leonard Louma said the MSG’s sub- regional integration agenda is a forerunner to achieving regional economic integration in the Pacific.
“The SPIRIT project complements the MSG’s Trade and Investment Programme initiatives such as the Melanesia Free Trade Agreement (MFTA) particularly in new areas of Trade in Services, Electronic Commerce, Private Sector Development and Regional Integration Trade Statistics. Strengthening sub- regional integration would accelerate the regional integration agenda for the Pacific.”
Distaquaine Tu’ihalamaka, Tonga CEO for Trade and Economic Development, added that the Tongan Government was grateful that the Trade Advisor for Polynesia would be based in Nuku’alofa.
“We consider it of critical importance to tirelessly facilitate the process of strengthening cooperation with our development partners through enhanced regional and international trade.”
The SPIRIT project forms part of the larger PRISE trade programme. Apart from the SPIRIT project, there are two other related trade projects under the banner of PRISE, namely Safe Agricultural Trade Facilitation in the Pacific implemented by the Pacific Community and Improving Pacific Islands Customs and Trade implemented by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. All three projects will be operational until 2025.