Thank you very much and welcome everybody here this evening. Your Excellency the President of Nauru, Ministers, heads of delegation, welcome to Australia and welcome to Brisbane.
I've had the opportunity to be welcomed to a number of your countries and it's very nice to be able to welcome you as friends and colleagues to Australia.
This year promises to be a big one for the Pacific. In addition to the implementation of sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, concluding PACER Plus is also a top priority.
Australia is deeply committed to working with the region to improve trade and investment conditions and I'm very glad that you as ministers and trade delegations have put this time aside to make decisions about PACER Plus. It is a very important agreement for all our countries.
I was very pleased to be in the Cook Islands in October where trade ministers committed to redouble efforts to include a high quality trade agreement and investment agreement this year.
Bringing the economies of the region closer together, taking advantage of our comparative advantages, tapping into regional and global supply chains, stimulating the private sector, and sending a clear message to the world that the Pacific is open for business.
PACER is ultimately about strengthening trade with key partners and deepening regional integration to grow our economies. From an Australian perspective, our free trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and China have now all entered force and benefits from those to be derived through greater, closer integration in the region are being felt.
We believe this is a great example to see how stronger trade ties through these sorts of arrangements can be beneficial to all our economies. They closer align our rules of trade, facilitate more seamless trade and investment, and that is what's required to grow our economies.
New investment will drive new jobs and growth. These are the ultimate platforms for self-sufficient and sustainable economies and that's what we would like to build in all our nations through the Pacific.
I have to say I'm excited by the potential for the Pacific to greater leverage its natural resources. I have had the real privilege to participate in meetings of FFA over recent years and understand quite well how important and strategic the fisheries resources are to countries in the Pacific. A very, very important resource for our development.
But also, now as the Minister for Tourism and International Education in Australia the vast and magnificent tourism resources that can be developed for the benefit of our local communities. There is enormous potential in the Pacific as we all understand, for the development of those resources and working together to build the skills to ensure that they are making a strong and positive contribution to our relative communities. This is something that we can do through this process.
This process can actually provide all of us and our nations with the tools to meet our aspirations for the development of our economies in the future.
It's very, very pleasing that the negotiations are progressing well. 10 of 15 chapters have now been provisionally agreed, market access negotiations are advanced, and most countries have taken offers. In coming days let's hope that we can make more progress.
It's important to note that PACER Plus takes into account differing development levels, situations and capacities in the various Pacific nations. There are provisions for special and differential treatment in all chapters provisionally agreed or still under negotiation.
At the same time it's underpinned by global trade rules involving WTO obligations for WTO members and realistic commitments for non-WTO parties. We all have a shared interest in strong open rules and a rule based multi-lateral trade system that can provide the framework that will underpin growth of our economies.
In the context of labour mobility, Australia's seasonal worker programme continues to deliver significant gains to Pacific countries with around 8,500 Pacific Islanders having taken advantage of the programme to date. That's over and above those who came to Australia under the earlier seasonal worker pilot programme.
We are in the process of negotiating updated seasonal worker programme MOUs with participant countries and tonight we will sign an updated MOU with the Solomon Islands, and we're very pleased to be doing that.
As you are aware we have also uncapped the seasonal worker programme. The accommodation sector has been folded in and Northern Australian tourism industry has been invited to apply to join the programme on a trial basis.
On the 8th of February Australia announced the expansion of the programme to cattle, sheep, grain and mixed enterprises. And I can say to you that it is very, very popular amongst our agricultural sector.
We are also progressing the Pacific micro states Northern Australia worker pilot programme that provides two to three year visas for workers from Nauru, Tuvalu, and Kiribati to work in Northern Australia. These changes should provide the opportunity for more Pacific Islanders coming to Australia to work, increasing remittances.
PACER Plus will include a commitment to provide assistance to implementation and to enhance broader aid for trade to address constraints and maximise benefits. Australia is committed to working with all of you to determine the best future use of PACER Plus develop assistance.
Colleagues, PACER Plus provides us a golden opportunity to work to build a comprehensive, economic integration framework that reflects our close relationships, our strategic priorities and shared economic future.
The benefits can be significant and great. We should all be working to have PACER Plus enter force as soon as possible.
Colleagues, our leaders made a commitment to have PACER Plus completed by June this year. It is our responsibility now to complete that commitment. This is an important thing that we do for our countries.
As I said before, developing that strategic trade framework between our nations provides the framework and the toolkit for us to continue to develop and grow our economies to the benefit of our citizens.
We would like to think that we can use the example of our experience in developing comprehensive trade agreements with our strategic partners such as Korea, Japan and China, as an example of how having that strong comprehensive economic framework can be of benefit to our nations going forward.
I look forward to participating with you further in the talks and obviously look forward to the progress and ultimate completion of the PACER Plus negotiation in the framework and the timeline that's been committed to by our leaders.
Thank you again very much for being here. I look forward to having further conversations with you this evening. Thank you.
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