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Oxfam says people from Pacific Island countries are most likely to lose out from the PACER-Plus regional free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand, which is edging closer to completion.
The aid and development charity noted that PACER-Plus FTA has been heralded as a "development agreement" that will help build robust economies and generate sustainable growth among the Pacific countries.
However, there are concerns about the potential impact of encouraging more foreign investment and greater access for overseas companies to the Pacific nations' internal market.
A recently released report from the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) highlighted "threats" posed to Pacific governments, including "their right to regulate, the right to food for Pacific Islanders, significant negative health impacts, and disproportionate impacts that would be borne by women," said Oxfam.
"Oxfam supports the report's recommendation that there be no decision on PACER-Plus until there is a fully funded, no bias, independent assessment to allow Pacific people to make an informed decision about exactly what the agreement means."
Rachael Le Mesurier, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, said that Pacific economies face unique challenges and any regional trade policy must bear that in mind. "The Pacific is unique for its number of small island developing states and it is hard to see how a free trade agreement can be a fair trade agreement if small countries, with populations of a hundred thousand or less, are up against New Zealand, Australia, and the WTO powers.
"Whilst the negotiators have gone some way to speak to these concerns, the substance remains – that there are very real doubts as to whether PACER-Plus will provide fair benefit for those living in the island nations."
Oxfam is joined by civil society groups, trade unions, church groups, environmentalists, gender activists, and many more in calling for ministers to make no decision on PACER-Plus until there has been a proper social impact assessment and mandate from the Pacific people who are most likely to be affected.
Oxfam's statement was released in advance of a meeting on August 26, 2016, where negotiators pushed for the signing of the deal by the end of the year.
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