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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Jan. 18) – New Caledonia's government is considering joining the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA).

At its latest cabinet meeting late last week, the French Pacific territory's government put the item on its agenda in order to initiate debate and possible negotiations on the matter.

Economy Minister Didier Leroux told local media there were several advantages, in his view, for New Caledonia to join PICTA.

This included, he said, opening the regional market to local manufacturing companies.

While attending the 35th Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit in August last year, New Caledonia's President, Marie-Noëlle Thémereau, said one the most potentially interesting developments within the Pacific Forum members was the free trade agreements PICTA and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER), which came into force in 2003 after receiving ratification from Forum member countries.

But there were still some differences to iron out, she said, pointing out that the cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the three French Pacific dependencies - New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia - equals that of 14 Forum Island States, not including Australia and New Zealand.

New Caledonia is an observer within the Pacific Islands Forum.

French Polynesia was granted the same status in August last year.

PACER became effective in October 2002 and includes Australia and New Zealand.

PICTA (Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement), came into force in April 2003 and is restricted to the 14 Pacific Forum Island States.

For the past two years, the Pacific territories, including the French ones (New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia), seem to have become increasingly attractive to Forum member countries, which are now engaged in an open approach to these potential markets.

For the past two years also, Forum trade ministers meeting, while taking stock on the implementation progress of PACER and PICTA, have acknowledged the potentially significant benefits of trade and economic links between Forum countries and those territories, widely regarded as the region's markets having the highest purchasing power.

Forum trade ministers have consistently resolved that Forum "exploratory" missions were to visit the French and US territories to study their possible integration into the regional free trade zone.

Several Pacific Island Forum member countries, including Fiji, have also sent several high-powered delegations in New Caledonia and French Polynesia to explore further business opportunities for Fiji to export into the French territory..

January 20, 2005

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