Speech to PACER Plus one year anniversary reception

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Introduction:

Tena koutou katoa and a warm Pacific welcome to you all to this PACER Plus anniversary event.

It is fantastic to be able to be here with you in person tonight to mark the one year anniversary of PACER Plus entering into force. We all know what a challenging and disrupted year this has been and so it’s great to be able to come together and take the time to celebrate moments such as this. 

PACER Plus:

PACER Plus is a unique trade agreement as it is both a trade and a development agreement, with an aim to support long-term job growth and sustainable development in the Pacific region. I’m determined to amplify this aspect of the agreement, as I think it’s vital for establishing and maintaining the social licence for trade in the region. We do not have to look far in the world today to see the implications of failing to do this.

These goals of the agreement have become more vital as the region looks to overcome the impacts of the pandemic that has so changed our world – something which our wider strategy for engagement with the Pacific is focused on, and which Minister Sio will elaborate on further shortly.

Trade done right offers more than just better GDP figures on paper – it means sustainable development and real improvements in living standards. When PACER Plus entered into force last year I saw its potential to develop the Pacific’s capability to take advantage of the wider benefits from trade – to make a difference for communities, families and businesses. It is very pleasing that we’ve continued to make progress on PACER Plus despite the impact of the pandemic.

I’d like to take a moment to reflect on four developments over the last year.

First: a focus this year has been on standing up the key institutional structures to support the Agreement, one of which is the PACER Plus Implementation Unit headed by Mr Roy Lagolago, who unfortunately is unable to be here tonight. Operating out of Samoa, the Unit will manage the roll out of the AU$25.5m Development and Economic Corporation package which provides trade related assistance to our Pacific partners.

Central to the success of the PPIU is a clear direction of travel. It is very pleasing that the Parties have agreed a work programme for Roy and the team to implement into the medium term. The work programme leverages a comprehensive Rapid Needs Assessment or RNA undertaken by PACER Plus Parties and focusses on building the foundations for success. As the work programme notes in its introduction, laying the right foundations sets us up for success in the future. I’d like to thank all of those that contributed to the RNA and the development of the work programme and I look forward to hearing progress reports from Roy the next time I meet with my PACER Plus Ministerial colleagues in 2022. 

Second: as we know customs processes are a key component of international trade, allowing goods to move through borders – provided you have the correct paper work. And in many instances I mean ‘paper’ paper work. Over the last year New Zealand and Australia have worked to roll out a new online customs border management system known as ASYCUDA WORLD to the six smaller Pacific countries which are signatories to PACER Plus. This will make their customs processes easier through increasing the use of digital technology. What difference does this make? Put simply it makes life easier and reduces transaction costs for people. For example, the freight forwarder in Tonga who noted to the implementation team that his company can now submit manifests online, reducing the need to visit the Customs office and file a hard copy document, therefore saving time and money.

Third: I am also pleased to see the momentum that the PACER Plus qualifications recognition for labour mobility project now has. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has been working on this with the nine Pacific Island PACER Plus signatories since August 2020 and the plans for what they will do together to effect transformational change are now largely complete.

Building more effective qualifications recognition processes among the islands, with New Zealand, and through the Pacific Qualifications Framework will make a material improvement for Pasifika peoples looking to move more easily for employment. This will benefit their families, their communities and their countries’ overall economic recovery post the pandemic.

I want to thank all those senior officials in Pacific governments’ qualifications authorities, Ministries of Education, Labour, and Foreign Affairs for their close collaboration with NZQA.

Lastly I’d like to touch on the fourth Pacific Labour Mobility Annual Meeting, hosted by Samoa, which last week brought together virtually stakeholders from across our region. This meeting is a key deliverable under the Labour Mobility Arrangement, which sits alongside PACER Plus. I was pleased to join Pacific ministerial colleagues in a robust discussion on the challenges and opportunities of growing labour mobility opportunities.

At that meeting, I sought to begin a conversation about what a next generation approach to labour mobility might look like.  An approach, for example, that looks to expand beyond traditional sectors, that both increases remittances and develops the skill sets of workforces in the region, and which mitigates possible negative outcomes. I believe that, working in collaboration with our Pacific partners, labour mobility can make an even greater contribution to the sustainable economic development of our region. The meeting generated considerable momentum, and I look forward to seeing that    momentum translate into New Zealand welcoming more Pasifika people to take up employment here in the coming year, in a way that is aligned to Pacific partners’ own aspirations and priorities.

I acknowledge that there are some Pacific countries which need further convincing that it is in their interests to join PACER Plus, as I strongly believe it is. My message for them tonight is that what we’ve achieved as states parties this year is just the beginning. Development opportunities, better trade links and rules, new labour mobility opportunities, and stronger bonds across the region are things that would benefit all Pacific nations, and I would certainly welcome even greater uptake than we have already.

Investment in the pacific:

Strengthening the investment environment and enhancing investment opportunities are critical to helping countries to build back better and to improve the social and economic well-being of their citizens. Increasing investment in the Pacific region is a priority for Aotearoa New Zealand as we seek to support Pacific Island countries to rebuild their economies from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

PACER Plus is one way of achieving that, but going further, I am very pleased tonight to announce the establishment of InvestPacific, a New Zealand-based impact investment fund for the Pacific of up to $50 million. As the first private investment fund exclusively targeting the Pacific, InvestPacific seeks to strengthen resilience through mid-size investments that generate inclusive employment and sustainable development. The fund will focus on post-COVID recovery and long-term resilience challenges such as climate change, social inequality and economic diversification and inclusion.

New Zealand has committed $17m in development assistance to establish the fund, and we’re expecting to attract an additional $40m in private investment. The fund will offer both flexible capital and a technical assistance facility to accelerate investments across the Pacific region. Target sectors include agriculture, fisheries, tourism, digital economy, and social infrastructure.

InvestPacific will be unique in its impact focus and partnership approach with Pacific communities. The fund will work closely with Pacific stakeholders to ensure that investments provide sustainable financing options and generate real benefits for their communities. Fund establishment will begin in early 2022.

In addition to investment, InvestPacific aims to leverage New Zealand-based technical expertise, relationship networks and cultural advice to maximise benefits for Pacific Island countries. Close coordination between Pacific Island and New Zealand-based stakeholders, particularly Māori and Pasifika communities, will be key to ensuring an indigenous focus and indigenous-led investments. This is what the hands-on approach I mentioned earlier looks like in practise.

Alongside PACER Plus, InvestPacific demonstrates New Zealand’s partnership approach and our commitment to mobilise new and additional finance for Aid-for-Trade, the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change. I’m hopeful it can set an example for how successful investment in the region can be, and provide the impetus for the private sector to step further.

I’m optimistic too that the economic opportunities triggered by InvestPacific will be able to utilise the improved trade architecture and expertise being developed through PACER Plus to create new jobs, raise incomes and deliver sustainable economic benefits to our PACER Plus partners – again, demonstrating the agreement’s value.

Conclusion:

It’s been a privilege being a part of this work, and there’ll be plenty more good news to come. In the spirit of the collaborative approach I’ve outlined, I want to acknowledge the breadth of knowledge about the Pacific in the room and say my door is always open for new ideas and opportunities to realise the goals of PACER and the Government in the Pacific more broadly.

 I’d now like to invite my good friend and colleague the Hon Aupito William Sio to say a few words before we start the celebratory part of the evening.