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Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Wednesday held its final public consultation to promote awareness of a regional trade deal.
In October 2020, the Cook Islands became the eighth signatory of PACER Plus (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus) bringing the regional trade agreement into force.
And in a bid to explain its expected benefits and the country’s obligations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) yesterday hosted a consultation with presentations from Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, Chamber of Commerce, Customs, Business Trade and Investment Board, Ministry of Agriculture and Immigration, at the Muri Beach Club Hotel.
PACER Plus is a regional development-centred trade agreement with the key objective to support Pacific island countries to become more active partners and benefit from regional and global trade.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Tepaeru Herrmann in her opening address expressed, “it is further intended that this (PACER Plus) can in turn create opportunities for growth, jobs and increasing living standards.”
“What PACER Plus offers, like any trade agreement it is a vehicle. What will come of it depends on first of all is, what we understand about it, what we identify it offering opportunities for the Cook Islands, and what effort we put into trying to harness whatever those opportunities may be.”
The agreement includes detailed provisions not only for trade and goods but also for trade and services.
Broad areas that are targeted for support are: agricultural export development, trade facilitation, export promotion and investment, private sector development and job creation and labour mobility and remittance.
Herrmann said: “It is intended to build a framework of its regional international rules that will over time increase predictability, transparency and stability in the regional business environment.”
The role of Foreign Affairs and Immigration is to coordinate and collate domestic feedback to feed into associated positions and to see how the country might harness some of the opportunity that PACER Plus has to offer.
On border control, Herrmann expressed, this is continued on a periodic basis dependant on what the health risk is in New Zealand – to make adjustments at the border.
“That Covid free status we have all worked so diligently to maintain has not come without cost. The decision making within government continues to be extremely challenging as it is in every country in the world. Rest assured that government is acutely aware of those conditions and of the state of our health system,” she said.
“Domestically, the almost total closure of our borders since March 2020 has effectively drawn to a halt significant economic activity, MFEM has estimated this last year the equivalent to approximately $370 million.”
For the Cook Islands and globally, the economic impact was unprecedented.
And the flow on effect has hurt the most, for small nations like the Cook Islands who stand at the end of the supply chain.
“For too long we have relied on a single industry for the majority of our national economic growth,” said Herrmann.
“Covid-19 has also shone a light on our specific vulnerabilities, those of over reliance on imports, chronic under-resourcing and development of the health system and capabilities and lack of investment in our agricultural, primary and beyond tourism service sectors.”
Government continues to put in every effort towards resuming a safe regular movement of people between the Cook Islands and New Zealand, said Herrmann.
But she said the country “must not lose sight of the equally urgent, in the view of MFAI, pressing work that needs to be undertaken to address the core nation vulnerability and progress necessary, economy diversification - which brings us to PACER Plus and today’s discussions.”
Pacer Plus is framed within the current domestic and international operating environment, she added.
The negotiations of the Pacer Plus agreement began 12 years ago in 2009 and concluded in 2017, and the agreement came into force on 13 December, 2020.
Ria Arthur, foreign service officer (Trade and Emergent Partners), presented information on PACER Plus and of the Pa Enua visits in December last year to deliver consultations to their communities on awareness of the agreement and how funds can be accessed.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
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