Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Trade Minister Todd McClay calls off trade trip to Fiji

Trade Minister Todd McClay. PHOTO/Nick Reed
Trade Minister Todd McClay. PHOTO/Nick Reed

Trade Minister Todd McClay has pulled out of a trade visit to Fiji after Fiji's Trade Minister announced Fiji was withdrawing from the Pacific-wide trade deal he was going to negotiate.

McClay was to travel to Fiji this week for talks on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (Pacer Plus) - a Pacific wide free trade agreement.

However, on the same day he announced his trip Trade Minister Faiyaz Koya announced Fiji was withdrawing from the agreement, citing backtracks on key commitments by Australia and New Zealand.

McClay said he had now decided to delay the trip. He said Fiji had raised issues about some aspects of the agreement which were agreed to by all Pacific Island countries.

"I do not believe Fiji's statement is a fair reflection of the agreement as it stands. Pacer Plus will be a high quality agreement which provides opportunities for all Pacific nations and one that recognises the individual developing nature of their economies."

Koya told Fiji Broadcasting Corporation he believed New Zealand and Australia had backtracked on commitments for a development-focused agreement.

He was concerned the labour mobility and development clauses of Pacer Plus were non-binding which meant they could withdraw at any point.

He also believed there was not enough protection for small businesses.

Papua New Guinea has also withdrawn from the agreement saying it did not believe it would directly benefit PNG but its Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has said it would benefit other countries and should be concluded.

Fiji had withdrawn from Pacer Plus negotiations during the coup years but re-joined in September 2014, saying it wanted "tangible and binding commitments" from New Zealand and Australia in the agreement.

A spokeswoman for McClay said the decision to pull out was not related to the New Zealand Government's concerns about the detention of Opposition MPs and a trade union official in Fiji over the weekend.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Prime Minister John Key have voiced concern after two Opposition party leaders and a trade official were taken into custody for taking part in a forum on the Fijian Constitution.

Fiji's law requires a permit for public gatherings. McCully said while the facts were still unclear he was taking a "close interest" and would be concerned if human rights or the freedom of political discussion were infringed.

- NZ Herald

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