Government of the Cook Islands
Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration
Following Pa Enua consultations at the end of 2020, the Cook Islands conducted last week the final leg of Rarotonga consultations on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus.
The Agreement entered into force on 13th December 2020, enabling the release of AUD $25.5 million from Australia and New Zealand towards the implementation of a suite of development and economic cooperation activities to support parties including the Cook Islands in their trade and investment development ambitions.
Since 2009, Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) have led the Cook Islands Government’s participation in the negotiations of the Agreement and are now reorienting focus towards supporting domestic implementation.
In opening the consultations, MFAI Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann acknowledged the extensive costs that had come to bear as consequence of necessary border closures to prevent COVID-19 reaching the Cook Islands. “While every effort continues to resume the safe and regular movement of peoples between the Cook Islands and New Zealand, as much as its proven elusive thus far, we must progress in a deliberate manner economic diversification guided by the recently confirmed 10 year Economic Development Strategy. PACER Plus provides a vehicle to support diversification efforts and comes with some technical and financial assistance much needed amidst COVID challenges.”
Domestic consultations serve to provide business sector and communities key information relating to PACER Plus and garner insights into current and future possible trade and economic development prospects and aspirations that might be able to be supported via PACER Plus.
The PACER Plus agreement commits all Parties to economic cooperation and development, a key objective being to support Pacific Island countries to become more active partners in, and benefit from, regional and global trade. It is further intended that this will, in turn, create opportunities for growth, jobs and increasing living standards. In contrast to previous trade agreements to which the Cook Islands is party, PACER Plus includes detailed provisions not only on trade in goods but also trade in services and investment, temporary movement of natural persons, development and economic cooperation, institutional arrangements, transparency, and consultation and dispute settlement. Of particular interest to and importance for the Cook Islands are the associated commitments of Australia and New Zealand to provide aid-for-trade assistance to enable parties to Pacer Plus to build their capacities to be able to take advantage of opportunities that will become available under the agreement, the broad areas being targeted for support including;
· Agricultural export development;
· Trade facilitation, export promotion and investment;
· Private sector development and job creation; and,
· Labour mobility and remittances.
The consultations will inform the development of a Cook Islands PACER Plus’ Development and Economic Work Programme, which will be submitted for funding consideration from the AUD25.5million available to parties to PACER Plus.
Government agencies have advanced work to prepare for PACER Plus implementation including the Cook Islands Customs Service (CICS) who since 2017 have worked closely with partner agencies domestically and the Oceania Customs Organization (OCO) and key counterpart departments in New Zealand and Australia to ensure that the Cook Islands is prepared for the entry into force of the Agreement including through workshops on rules of origin (RoO) for customs officials, importers, exporters and customs brokers commencing with further workshops able to be arranged should there be need. For further insights into RoO workshops and OCO support for PACER Plus preparedness and implementation, see https://www.ocosec.org/oco-conducts-refresher-training-on-pacer-plus-rules-of-orgin/
More recently, with the support of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and funding support via the PACER Plus development envelope, the Cook Islands trade portal has been developed. The portal, which can be accessed here https://cook-islands.tradeportal.org/ is intended to be a one-stop-shop for pertinent trade information about the Cook Islands. The portal, developed collaboratively by UNCTAD and officials from Customs and the Business Trade and Investment Board (BTIB) includes information on trade statistics, the Cook Islands legal framework relating to trade matters and other pertinent information of interest to importers, exporters, officials and businesses. Administration of the portal going forward is the responsibility of BTIB and the Customs division of MFEM.
For enquiries relating to this release of PACER Plus, please contact MFAI Trade Officer Ria Arthur on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 29347.