COMPERE: Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, says Fiji and Tonga must resolve their dispute over Taru Tevita Mara.
Mr Marles, representing Australia at the Pacific Islands Forum Trade Minister’s Meeting in Tonga, says Canberra is monitoring the situation which is basically a bilateral dispute.
RICHARD MARLES: This is really a matter between Tonga and Fiji. We’ll monitor this very closely but it’s a matter for these two countries to work out how to deal with the situation.
Obviously, it would remain in our position that we would like to see Fiji return to a state of democracy and have a return to the rule of law at the earliest opportunity.
INTERVIEWER: Has there been any discussions with the Tongan Government?
RICHARD MARLES: No, we are aware of what’s been transpiring here and we’re monitoring it closely. But, as I say, this is a matter for the Tongan Government and Fiji to work out.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you’re in Tonga for the Pacific Islands Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting. What’s the focus of discussions there?
RICHARD MARLES: This is a really important meeting in the context of seeing economic integration of the Pacific. Economic integration is really important for the development of the region - to see that goods and services are flowing throughout the region with as few trade barriers as possible.
This is going to be an important meeting in terms of maintaining momentum around the PACER Plus negotiations and we expect a positive response to those discussions at this meeting.
It’s a very important treaty to be negotiated to further increase the level of economic integration within the region.
I think there is an increasing understanding within the region of the need and benefits for greater economic integration and perhaps the country’s own development.
INTERVIEWER: And what will be Australia’s contribution?
RICHARD MARLES: We’ve put forward a significant contribution towards assisting the process of trade. We recognise that if countries are going to plug into the global trading system some basic infrastructure is required. That goes to issues such as quarantine and making sure that there are proper customs arrangements in these countries and there is some basic infrastructure is in place.
So, all of this is the subject of significant development assistance commitments by Australia within the region.
But over and above the considerable money being put forward, and we’re talking of tens of millions being directed, what’s really important is to share our own story. The opening up of our own economy has been fundamental to Australia’s current prosperity and I think that’s an important message as any of the dollar assistance being provided here. To say to these countries that opening up your economy will be a really important step towards the development of your country. I think that’s a message we’re trying to share.
INTERVIEWER: What are the biggest barriers for Pacific Island economies to external trade?
RICHARD MARLES: There are significant revenues raised at the moment through tariff barriers, and so it does require a restructuring of the tax base in a country to go down this path. And as soon as you’re talking about that, you’re talking about difficult public policies.
So, we don’t for a moment think that this is an easy step for countries to take. But that’s why it’s important to have meetings such as this where we can make sure that the story of Australia, New Zealand and other countries is being told. But that we also work very closely with the countries of the Pacific, so that what steps they do take are gradual and allow their own revenue-raising system to adjust and their own economy to adjust.
But at the end of the day, a more economically integrated Pacific is good for everyone.
INTERVIEWER: And that brings us to the regional aid for trade strategy to promote exports and investments in the Pacific. How much progress can we expect on that front?
RICHARD MARLES: Well this will obviously form part of the discussions over the next day and a half as well, and I think that — yes, there are important messages there, as I’ve said, in relation to things, such as quarantine and customs.
I think there is a desire to go down this path. And, certainly, we’ve detected in the last three or four months an interest within the Pacific in moving faster down the path of trying to get a more economically integrated region.
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