Today, via the Pacific Hub, we are launching our latest Policy Brief: Activating greater trade and investment between Australia and Pacific island countries. It draws on the Griffith Asia Institute’s submission to a recent inquiry by the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and Trade.
We put forward a number of recommendations based on our research and analysis that are focused very much on how Australia can be a bigger and better market for Pacific goods and services. And within this scope our thinking is directed very much towards what needs to happen in order for Pacific producers to sell more goods into Australian markets. Whilst we recognise the significance of trade in services – particularly with respect to tourism and labour mobility – we argue that there is much more that can be done to grow markets for Pacific products. In particular, we see a lot of potential in niche products that are low in yield but high in value. Examples include vanilla, spices, coffee, cocoa and kava.
Whilst a lot of policy and diplomatic energy has been invested in the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) trade agreement, this does not sufficiently address the constraints that Pacific producers and exporters face when it comes to accessing Australian markets. More needs to be invested in supporting the productive sectors in Pacific island countries and in addressing the ‘beyond the border’ hurdles that they face in Australia.
One of the areas that we particularly focus on in our policy brief is the importance of linkages. For example, where Australia supports investments in infrastructure in the region, there are opportunities for Australia to work with Pacific policy makers to develop and deliver infrastructure projects that provide sustainable and targeted support to the productive sectors in Pacific island countries. Where possible, this should include use of low carbon technologies to promote sustainability and align with national development plans and objectives. For example, solar powered refrigeration facilities at wharves, ports, and airports.
Another important aspect of how we think more trade can be incentivised between Australia and countries in the Pacific islands region is by looking at the role of Pacific diaspora communities. This applies in several ways, including as providers of finance in their home countries, as purchasers of primary or value-added goods for inclusion into Australian and global value chains, and as niche markets for Pacific produce and products. There is much that the Australian government can do, by way of its Pacific ‘step-up’ to build these linkages and develop an enabling environment for high-value trading relationships to grow and flourish.
Across these and other key areas we provide a total of eight ‘possible ways forward’. We offer these recommendations and the analysis on which they are based to the wider policy community for debate and consideration. We look forward to seeing how these recommendations can contribute to developing Australia’s trading relationships with Pacific island countries.
Dr Wesley Morgan is Research Coordinator at Pacific Connections (Australia) and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, a Research Associate at the Development Policy Centre, Australian National University and an Honorary Research Fellow at the East Asia Security Centre, Bond University.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.