NEW CALEDONIA SIGNS TRADE AGREEMENT WITH AUSTRALIA

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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (March 11, 2002 - Oceania Flash)---New Caledonia has signed a memorandum of understanding with its largest neighbor, Australia, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The agreement, which was signed last Friday during the official visit of Australia’s trade minister, Mark Vaile, sets out guidelines for further trade developments between the French territory and Australia.

The visit was described by Australian media as "groundbreaking."

Australia is "proud to be the first country" to sign such an agreement with New Caledonia, Vaile said.

As part of the autonomy process set out in the 1998 Nouméa Accord, New Caledonia is authorized to take charge of regional affairs, including entering into agreements with neighboring countries.

"This declaration of intention is an important step in the implementation of the Nouméa Accord, at a time when New Caledonia is strengthening its economic links within the region," the Australian minister pointed out.

The one-page document, which was signed by Vaile and New Caledonia’s President Pierre Frogier, is a declaration of general goals, including to "develop, liberalize and facilitate trade and investment" ties.

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