TRADE MINISTERS URGED TO ENDORSE THE PROPOSED FREE TRADE AREA CONCEPT

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 31, 1999 - PACNEWS)---Forum Trade Ministers meeting in the Fiji capital, Suva have been urged to seriously consider the long-term benefits of the proposed Free Trade Area.

Speaking to a high level closed door session of forum trade ministers, Forum Secretariat’s Secretary General, Noel Levi, said the proposed regional trade grouping would determine whether the nations of the Pacific region are ready to respond as a region to the enormous pressures of globalization and trade liberalization.

Levi said the idea is not new. It was first discussed at the Forum meeting in 1971 by founding members of the Forum Secretariat, who felt the need to form an economic union in the region.

He said this vision had not been realized and hope the trade ministers would build on what the founding fathers of the Forum Secretariat discussed 29 years ago.

"The main difference between 1971 and now of course is that we no longer have the luxury time in front of us and major events and pressures continue to raise the need for us to respond and quickly respond."

"The whole world around us is organizing themselves into trading blocs because they see that as the only way to make themselves strong enough to deal with globalization and trade liberalization", Levi said.

He said only last week; another region of developing countries in Africa reached an agreement also to form themselves into a free trade area.

Levi challenged the ministers saying, "We are perhaps the only region in the world that has not engaged in a trading bloc to help meet the demands of trade and liberalization. The fact that our individual smallness and isolation would seem to be a clear indication that we do need to form a trade bloc to create economies of scale, to enhance our strengths and to foster a collective purpose."

The draft framework agreement has taken into consideration the welfare and economic benefits of many members who are relatively small.

"The agreement is initially to be an arrangement between countries of similar development status with common trade interests. Our members are saying they need time to adjust and to gather some strengths and momentum before taking the big step of non-preferential liberalization. That is what we have tried to capture in the draft framework agreement." Levi said.

The Forum Secretary General appealed to trade ministers to endorse the draft agreement and begin negotiations in earnest.

He said the negotiation process would take months before a draft treaty is text is ready for consideration.

"Even if by the end of next year you agree to establish the proposed free trade area, its gradual implementation over 8 to 10 years or more, would mean that you would have the time to make the necessary adjustments," Levi said.

A decision by the trade ministers will be further deliberated by Forum leaders in Palau later this year.

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