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Melanesian countries lack trade in services statistics for economic growth

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A regional technical workshop on international trade statistics underway in Suva has heard the need for a regional framework to capture services trade statistics in the Pacific region.

The concern was raised by Melanesian Spearhead Group director general, Ambassador Amena Yauvoli while addressing the weeklong workshop, whose focus will be on statistic for goods traded under preferential trade agreements.

Ambassador Yauvoli said trade in services now represents the fastest growing exports worldwide and in the Pacific region, especially in Melanesia.

“Its significance is demonstrable in the MSG sub-region given its inclusion as a new chapter in the Melanesian Free Trade Agreement (MFTA), just as with other Trade Agreements in force in the Pacific.

“Even within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) architecture, the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Services Waiver allows its members until December 2026 to provide LDCs, which include Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, with preferential treatment in terms of services-focused market measures.

In light of the tremendous economic potential of the services sector, the absence of an appropriate methodological framework to accurately capture services trade statistics in our region is troubling, said Ambassador Yauvoli.

The other two new chapters of the MFTA relate to Labour Mobility and Cross-Border Investment.

“While the MFTA is expected to enter into force later this year, it will be remiss of me not to acknowledge the significant benefits that all our island countries have been enjoying through the already growing intra-regional capital flows of services, skilled labour and entrepreneurs, and investments. As we are all aware, the bulk of these capital flows is sourced from MSG countries.

On trade in goods, the head of the sub-regional body informed participants of the recent decision of MSG Leaders in Papua New Guinea two weeks ago – to engage New Caledonia in the Melanesia Free Trade Agreement.

“This is anticipated to consolidate the MSG sub-region as a solid trading bloc and ultimately support the Pacific regional economic integration process, said Ambassador Yauvoli

While entry into the New Caledonian market has challenges, its potential benefits are tremendous and as mooted by the Prime Minister of Vanuatu at the Summit, economic integration with New Caledonia is a plausible consideration especially during the imminent post-Cotonou era.

“This will enhance MSG-EU and of course Pacific-EU trading and development cooperation, covering diverse and highly specialised areas such as the collection and quantitative analysis of trade and economic statistics in general, said the MSG director general.

He said MSG’s 2038 Prosperity for All Plan recognised the importance of updated and accurate statistic for informed policy decision making and for national and sectoral planning.

“I am therefore convinced that this workshop would make important contributions to each of our countries’ national strategies for the attainment of trade policy priorities and of relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Trade statistics thus play an integral and influential role in the policy mainstreaming process that we should all be pursuing.

“Obviously, and given the relative sizes of their economies, the MSG countries would have had the lion’s share of that three per cent portion of regional trading. Data on trade levels or at least their estimates have remained elusive. They were hardly captured and not readily available, affecting in turn our national and regional trade policy making work

The workshop will go a step further in measuring trade flows attributed to Preferential Trade Agreements including the MSG Trade Agreement and the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement, PICTA. Ministerial declarations of trade waxing or even waning, their estimations of surges or downturns in bilateral trade, such as between Fiji and Papua New Guinea through the MSG Trade Agreement, said Ambassador Yauvoli.

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