Trade agreement has potential to achieve more

While Fiji rakes in $105million per year from exports to Pacific island countries, only a small percentage of this trade has taken place under any of the present regional trade agreements.

This, according to Industry and Trade permanent secretary Shaheen Ali, has worsened with the Pacific Island Country Trade Agreement signed in 2001.

In his opening address at the recent Investment Fiji export seminar, Mr Ali said none of Fiji's exports or negligible level of Fiji's exports to the Pacific had taken place under PICTA.

"For example, over a three-year period, only 36 per cent of Fiji's exports to the MSG countries have been under the MSG Trade Agreement which has been in place since 1993," he said, adding that Fiji joined in 1997.

"The reason for the under-utilisation is either these agreements are inherently flawed or they are not being faithfully implemented by our partners.

"With PICTA Goods Agreement, challenges are almost insurmountable. Fiji still values PICTA as an essential tool for regional integration and is willing to work with its 14 member states and the Secretariat to overcome implementation challenges."

He said the MSG Trade Agreement had the potential to achieve deeper integration and progress trade among its four members who now have binding commitments to implement the trade agreement.

Mr Ali said Papua New Guinea recently gazetted its negative list, effectively ratifying the revised trade agreement. The agreement removed tariffs from all products in its negative list which had over 300 items except for mackerel, sugar and salt.

"This has been a positive move by PNG which is a lucrative market in the Pacific and Fiji is poised to benefit from this market," he said.

"As far as other MSG countries are concerned, Vanuatu will remove tariffs on its negative list by 2013 while Solomon Islands will do that by 2017."