Open Letter from Dr Roman Grynberg’s to PNG Prime Minister and MSG Leaders
Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare
I am writing this public letter to you and the other MSG leaders in the hope that the troubling recent developments in regard to the future PACER Plus Agreement with Australia and New Zealand can be addressed at the up-coming MSG Leaders Summit.
There can be little doubt that the PACER Plus agreement, if properly negotiated, will be of enormous benefit to the people of Papua New Guinea as well as all the peoples of Melanesia and the wider Pacific islands region. However, the lead up to these negotiations has shown that the reality is likely to fall far short of the potential because of the excessive haste that has been shown by Australia and New Zealand in pushing the Pacific Island Countries into negotiations when they are simply not ready to do so given that they remain involved in highly complex negotiations with the EU.
The Pacific island nations have not had sufficient time to either consult adequately with national stakeholders or to undertake genuinely neutral and scientific analysis of what type of future trade arrangement would be in their interests. The arrangements for future negotiations that have been reported in the media following the Apia meeting of Forum Trade Ministers are very disturbing and will almost certainly leave the PNG, as well as Melanesian countries and the wider Pacific islands without sufficient capacity to negotiate.
A significant issue in all of this has been the exclusion of Fiji from the negotiations. While I am deeply supportive of the democratic process and the Forum efforts to promote democracy the current situation will mean that the entire people of Fiji will be penalized by their exclusion from PACER through events not of their own making. Moreover, once democracy returns to Fiji there can be little doubt that a future democratic government will have little choice but to accept the terms of an agreement that will have been negotiated without its participation.
The arrangements being developed require complete ownership of the negotiating process by the Pacific islands. It is for this reason that I write to you to call on you and other MSG leaders to remove the negotiating process from the Pacific Islands Forum altogether and move it to the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat. I also call upon you to assure the rights of the people of Fiji are protected and that their voice can be actively heard at the trade negotiations. In order to assure that a neutral negotiation occurred the small island states should also be invited to participate in an MSG based negotiation. While I recognize the direct financial cost of such an action the PACER plus treaty is so important to an entire generation of young Papua New Guineans, Melanesians and Pacific Islanders that it cannot be handled by institutions which are so thoroughly dominated by Australian and New Zealand interests. Only the MSG has the neutrality to manage this process.
I know that PNG and other Melanesian countries jealously and rightly guard their sovereignty. To sacrifice this sovereignty on such an important matter as your future economic relations with your neighbors and to potentially end up with a treaty that is not in your interests would be the sacrifice of your sovereignty for which you fought.
Sir, you are the last remaining father of the Forum. Your vision in creating the Forum was grand but in certain matters such as these the Pacific Islands simply cannot leave such important negotiations to institutions dominated by the interests of Australia and New Zealand.
Dr Roman Grynberg