Could the European Union’s regional trade success help Pacific nations increase their economic output, especially during a time when recession looks inevitable?
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat signed agreements with the Melanesian Spearhead Group and Tonga on Monday with the aim to do just that.
This is the European Union (EU) funded SPIRIT project (Strengthening Pacific Intra-Regional and International Trade) under the Pacific Regional Integration Support (PRISE) Program.
This deal allows countries greater access to markets in the European Union and to help the Forum has sent trade advisers to work in the sub-regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
Forum Deputy Secretary General Dr Filimon Manoni said that forging these partnerships signals renewed hope and new beginnings for the Pacific.
“The significance of this event stretches far beyond just a signing ceremony of the Host Agreements between the PIFS with Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat and the Government of Tonga,” he said.
“With the reopening of borders in some countries and the anticipated boost to trade and tourism numbers, the Pacific region is expected to grow by 4.7 per cent this year, an upward revision from 3.8 per cent.
“However, we expect the post-pandemic economic recovery process to be slow and wrought with challenges.”
Dr Manoni said the timing of this strategic partnership couldn’t be more apt for the region as the Pacific continues its uphill battle against the COVID19 pandemic.
Each of the trade advisers is tasked to assist the Pacific states in their sub-regions of assignment, to facilitate the design of sound trade policies, develop and implement aid for trade projects, and benefit from WTO and other trade agreements in a way that promotes sustainable businesses and creates employment.
Chargé d’affaires / Acting Head of Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, Dr Erja Askola, expressed satisfaction with the program.
“The Pacific Regional Integration Support Program is the EU’s largest program of trade-related assistance in the Pacific ever, worth EUR 26.25 million or around 60.5 million FJD as a total,” she said.
“The European Union – itself a success story of regional integration – is proud to support Pacific partners in their own regional project towards better trade-connectivity. Today, I am delighted to witness the reinforcement of local capacities to make trade a real driver of development in the Pacific.
“This will make our Pacific partners better equipped to use the generous market access opportunities the EU offers”.
Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat Director General Mr Leonard Louma said the MSG’s sub- regional integration agenda is a forerunner to achieving regional economic integration in the Pacific.
“The SPIRIT project complements the MSG’s Trade and Investment Programme initiatives such as the Melanesia Free Trade Agreement (MFTA) particularly in new areas of Trade in Services, Electronic Commerce, Private Sector Development and Regional Integration Trade Statistics.
Strengthening sub- regional integration would accelerate the regional integration agenda for the Pacific,” he said.
Mrs Distaquaine Tu’ihalamaka, Tonga CEO for Trade and Economic Development, added that the Tongan Government was grateful that the trade advisor for Polynesia would be based in Nuku’alofa.
“We consider it of critical importance to tirelessly facilitate the process of strengthening cooperation with our development partners through enhanced regional and international trade,” she said.
The SPIRIT project forms part of the larger PRISE trade programme. Apart from the SPIRIT project, there are two other related trade projects under the banner of PRISE, namely Safe Agricultural Trade Facilitation in the Pacific implemented by the Pacific Community and Improving Pacific Islands Customs and Trade implemented by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
All three projects will be operational until 2025.