Puna, who attended the Pacific Ministerial Meeting with trade ministers of other Forum Island Countries (FICs) and Australia and New Zealand this month, agreed on final text for the agreement, which is intended to be signed in June this year in Tonga.
It’s regarded as a “trade and economic integration” agreement by Australia and New Zealand, and negotiations on PACER Plus which includes 12 Pacific island countries excluding Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have been continuing since 2009.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) which coordinated Cook Islands engagement in the PACER Plus negotiations said the deal was considered a landmark trade and development arrangement for the region.
“For the Cook Islands, PACER Plus is as much about development as it is about trade,” Puna said in the statement.
“It will create a common set of trading rules covering goods, services and investment which in turn should increase the attractiveness of the region for trade and investment and a stronger Pacific economy can only benefit the Cook Islands into the future.”
MFAI said it had coordinated Cook Islands engagement in the negotiation through a process which included multiple consultations with national stakeholders.
These included government agencies, the Chamber of Commerce and internal coordination of FICs positions supported by the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor.
MFAI said the challenge had been to agree within the one agreement provisions to give due recognition to the different stages of economic development of each of the FIC economies and the development challenges they face while at the same time creating platforms upon which PACER Plus could enable further trade and investment growth.
“Among other provisions, the agreed text provides safeguard measures to protect FICs infant industries, and allows a 25-year period for the Cook Islands to liberalise tariffs on imports from countries who are party to the agreement,” MFAI said.
“Tariff revenue implications for the Cook Islands from PACER Plus are expected to be minimal, given the Cook Islands unilaterally removed most import tariffs years ago.
“The agreement does provide the Cook Islands tariff protection of identified products like pearls and wood carvings, among others.”
The deal also includes a $55.24 million package for Pacific countries to increase their export capacities.
This is expected to be sealed by the participating countries: New Zealand, Australia, the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, FSM, Nauru, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Palau and Tuvalu, in June.
MFAI coordinated the most recent national consultations on PACER Plus a fortnight ago, with participants discussing the implications of the agreement for the Cook Islands.
“MFAI efforts relating to PACER Plus will now turn to the establishment of a National Trade Committee which will have oversight of Cook Islands efforts to implement PACER Plus in the coming months working in close partnership with key stakeholders like the Business Trade and Investment Board and the Chamber of Commerce.”