Vanuatu becomes 10th country to ratify Pacer Plus Agreement

Ratifying the PACER PLUS Agreement has made Vanuatu the 10th Pacific country to endorse the Agreement. Other countries that ratified the agreement include Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, New
Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. During the third week into the First Ordinary Session of Parliament, 36 Members of Parliament (MP) voted for the ratification of the Bill for the PACER
PLUS Agreement, while seven MPs did not support it.

This was the final process for entering into the whole PACER Plus Agreement before it would be gazetted and come into effect.

Vanuatu joined the signatories of the PACER Plus at the Forum Leaders Meeting in 2017. The Agreement entered into force on 13 December 2020.

According to the explanatory note on PACER Plus, “this agreement is a regional trade agreement, which aims to promote regional economic integration through trade, to avoid unnecessary barriers to trade, to liberalise trade, and to promote integration between the economies of its parties.

“In ratifying the PACER Plus Agreement, Vanuatu agrees to be bound by its commitments on trade in goods and services. The PACER Plus Agreement includes the development assistance, which supports the implementation of the agreement, and further spending on its aid for trade, which will enhance the participation of parties on international trade.

“The PACER Plus Agreement will establish a broad framework of labour mobility cooperation, which will build labour supply capacity, and skills, and increase employment sectors and remittances.

“Vanuatu supports the PACER Plus Agreement which has the link between economic development, social development and environmental protection, and the important role of development and economic cooperation in promoting sustainable development.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Marc Ati who presented the Bill affirmed in his address that a standalone arrangement will benefit Vanuatu through the Labour Mobility Program, under a framework on the program. From this, it will continue to support the supply of workers and enhance their skills.

During a heated debate in Parliament on Tuesday this week, Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu questioned how ratifying the agreement will benefit Vanuatu. He stressed that Vanuatu does not have the capacity and systems in place to ensure that Vanuatu can benefit fully from the agreement. He also pointed out that with no systems and capacities in place, Vanuatu would not be able to know how we are being affected by the agreement. Regenvanu said from awareness and consultations conducted in the past on this controversial PACER Plus, a lot of people in the civil society have declared their disagreement with the agreement.

He noted that so far Vanuatu has been exporting less than 1% of its goods while importing 33% from New Zealand and Australia. He emphasised the impact of Non Communicable Diseases which most imported food is from the two countries.

While Vanuatu is putting effort to boost the tourism industry through developing and establishing ways and initiatives such as the Agri-tourism by encouraging hotels to source food and products locally, the Leader of the Opposition argued that under PACER Plus, there are restrictions on the use of local content in the industries, especially in tourism and manufacturing.

Deputy Leader of Opposition and Minister of Internal Affairs Ishmael Kalsakau said now that the Bill is being passed, Vanuatu will go along with it, but if it is not workable, there is still room to remove it.