Government must listen to Pacific leaders on trade and climate change
Trade negotiations between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Pacific leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Cairns this week must not plunge Pacific people already hit by the economic crisis, food crisis and climate change further into poverty, says leading international aid agency Oxfam.
With overall growth in the Pacific expected to slow, and falls in tourism, remittances and exports resulting from the global financial crisis likely to hit hard, any new trade arrangements must prioritise development to truly benefit Pacific nations, says Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett (who will be in Cairns).
Negotiations for a new free trade agreement, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, known as ‘PACER Plus’, between Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, are on the agenda this week.
“Trade can be critical in helping lift people out of poverty, but the proposed rapid trade liberalisation in Pacific Island countries runs the risk of undermining development rather than enhancing it,” Mr Hewett said.
“Concerns for Pacific nations include potential loss of small businesses and jobs, as local firms are placed in direct competition with better-resourced Australian companies; loss of government revenue through removal of tariffs and import duties – leading to cuts to health and education services; threats to agriculture from loss of tariffs on food imports, and lack of capacity to monitor and control the timing and process of the negotiations.”
He said Pacific Island countries were already negotiating a number of trade agreements and initiatives with other countries, and needed time to consider all the implications of a PACER Plus agreement with Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Hewett said new Oxfam research suggested viable alternatives to PACER Plus, including an economic cooperation agreement with the Pacific’s development at its core.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Islands Forum is an opportunity for the Government to join with Pacific leaders in their call for urgent action on climate change to prevent further damage in the region.
Mr Hewett said climate change was contributing to increasing food and water shortages, people losing their land and being forced from their homes, rising cases of malaria, and more frequent flooding and storm surges.
“For people in the Pacific, climate change is a reality now,” Mr Hewett said. “The Australian Government must begin a real process of partnership with Pacific Island countries in finding ways to prevent further climate change, adapt where possible, and prepare for and assist with the resettlement of Pacific Island people who will be displaced by global warming.
He said the Government’s commitment of $150 million to help Pacific Islanders adapt to climate change needed to be at least doubled to meet the most urgent adaptation needs in the Pacific. This must be in addition to Australia’s existing aid commitments so that crucial poverty alleviation efforts were not compromised.
Please contact Laurelle Keough (0409 960 100, firstname.lastname@example.org) for interviews or briefings with Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett or Economic Justice Coordinator Kelly Dent.