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PNG wants separate deal with NZ, Aussie

Papua New Guinea does not need an independent bilateral arrangement with Australia and New Zealand to achieve its trade goals.

This is according to the Chief Trade Advisor to Pacific Island Countries on the regional free trade agreement PACER PLUS.

The comment was in response to statements from PNG’s Trade Minister Richard Maru to his Australian counterpart Keith Pitt in Port Moresby last week.

The ABC reported Mr Maru saying PNG would not be taking part in any further PACER PLUS negotiations but would seek its own bilateral trade arrangements with Australia.

Chief Trade Advisor Edwini Kessie said the announcement had come as a huge surprise as PNG had been a part of PACER Plus negotiations since 2009 and had led many of the negotiations.

"If Papua New Guinea were to join I think it would be very useful for the region, my understanding is that Papua New Guinea says they want a separate bilateral deal," he said.

"But I think that would undermine the regional cohesion and I think we can achieve these objectives within the PACER framework. So I am at a loss as to why they would like to push for a separate bilateral deal with Australia and possibly with New Zealand."

Meanwhile negotiations on the legal text of the regional free trade agreement are expected to wrap up later this month in New Zealand.

The Australia and New Zealand led "Trade and Development" agreement is in the final stages of negotiation with a meeting in Christchurch from the 22nd meant to iron out the final kinks in the proposed deal.

Edwini Kessie said he was confident that consensus would be reached on outstanding issues relating to the "Trade in Goods" and "Rules of Origin" chapters of the agreement.

"So once we finish the legal text what would be left would be the bilateral market access negotiations and we hope to finalise those by November, around November."

Mr Kessie said there would be a signing ceremony in November or early December.

He said only half of the 16 countries involved in PACER PLUS negotiations need to sign for the agreement to come into force.

Other countries, such as PNG, would be able to join the agreement at a later date if they chose to. –RNZI
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