A top Australian business executive says he would love to see more Pacific Islanders employed in Australia, in discussions on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) trade deal.
Executive director of the Australian-Fiji Business Council Frank Yourn also noted the absence of businesses as part of the deal’s negotiations, saying there was a need for them to be included, Fiji Sun reports.
The trade deal, mainly brokered by Australia and New Zealand, has been mired in controversy ever since the region’s biggest economies Fiji and Papua New Guinea opted not to join last year.
The two countries desire an inclusion of a binding provision in the trade deal that will give them greater labour mobility within Australia and New Zealand.
Yourn, who is also executive director of the Australia-Pacific Islands Business Council, made the comments during discussion at the 2018 Pacific Update conference at Suva’s University of the South Pacific Campus Thursday.
The conference since 2012 has brought together policy makers, development practitioners, academics and business people from the region to deliberate on and solve common problems.
“PACER Plus was considered to be the most efficient free trade agreement in the region,” said Tongan Trade Ministry official Alisi Kautoke-Holani, who spoke at the conference.
“But Pacific Island Countries have always argued against a conventional trade deal in the region as tariffs are a source of revenue for them. They have always pushed for labour mobility to be included as a priority area for their economies.
“It is unclear whether there will be commitments from ANZ to allow greater access for PICs to their labour markets.”
Australia’s commitments are limited to high-skilled professionals, she said, but Canberra has no provision for low and semi-skilled workers.
But the deal also offers opportunities for countries that have signed the deal, Yourn said.
“Fiji and PNG have decided to stay out of it and it is perfectly right for them to do so. Maybe at some time in the future they will view the policy differently. But as I understand it, PACER Plus will remain open for Fiji and PNG to join in the future, should they do so,” he said.
I want to see more Pacific Islanders working in Australia. The more Pacific Islanders having access to the Australian labour market, I think that helps the PIC economies.”
Yourn said PICs should maintain a focus on infrastructure development and improving its “ease-of-doing-business” environment.
“Every country is different so the detail of the arrangement will differ but the important thing is to have the right framework in place – a clear and transparent framework,” he said.
“So when a company is looking to do an investment, it can make a business plan knowing that the rules won’t change in five years’ time or 10 years. Obviously some things will change but you need that consistency – that’s just a general principle, said Yourn.