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Pacific trade adviser concerned about independence
12:48 pm GMT+12, 27/01/2010, New Zealand

The man selected to take on the role of chief trade adviser to the Pacific Island nations says there is a case for suspending negotiations for the PACER Plus trade agreement until his office is established.

In his first public statement since accusations were made that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is delaying the appointment of the Pacific's chief trade adviser, the adviser-elect, Dr Chris Noonan, has told Radio Australia he was disappointed he has not been able to negotiate acceptable conditions for his contract.

PACER Plus is one of the biggest free trade agreements yet attempted by the Pacific Islands, but the islands bring an unequal negotiating strength compared with Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Noonan is head of Commercial Law at Auckland University.

His appointment as the Pacific's chief trade adviser was announced in October, with a mandate to provide advice to the islands as they face up to Australia and New Zealand.

But he and some Pacific nations have expressed concerns about the independence his office will have under the contract being offered.

”There are a number of difficult contractual issues because of the suggestion that, on an interim basis, the office of the chief trade adviser will be attached to the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat,” he said.

But Dr Noonan said one of the key issues in setting up the office has been to ensure its independence, “and to ensure the Forum island countries received independent advice”.

He said the structure of the institution must be clearly established, so that the chief trade adviser and the office are accountable to the Forum Island countries, not to some broader institution of which Australia and New Zealand are members.

Dr Noonan said he believes the chief trade adviser should report to a governing board established by Forum Island countries.

He said while everyone agrees that should be the case once the office is established, the interim period leading up to that presents some legal challenge.

“The question is really what is the appropriate relations on the interim basis, and my view is from the start that the chief trade adviser should be answerable and report to the Forum Island countries through the governing board they are going to establish, rather than indirectly through the Forum Islands secretariat, then on to the governing board or some other sort of arrangement,” he said.

Earlier this month, a leading regional NGO accused the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat of attempting to delay the setting-up of the office of the chief trade adviser, and undermining its independence.

Dr Noonan said there was justification for suspending or delaying PACER Plus negotiations until his office is established.

“It is a decision for the parties to the negotiation, but the countries have made it very clear, and the whole position of the office of the chief trade adviser was being discussed quite intensively, for quite a long time between Australia, New Zealand and the Forum Island countries, and this was a pre-condition for negotiations starting” he said.

“So, to the extent that one of those conditions has not been met, for whatever reason, I think there is a justification for suspending or delaying at least the commencement of negotiations until there is an office of the chief trade adviser”….


SOURCE: RADIO AUSTRALIA/PACNEWS


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