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MNAA submission to NZ Parliament opposing PACER-Plus Agreement

July 4, 2017

The Belt and Road Initiative is potentially the largest development infrastructure in history

It is unfortunate that the Forum Island Countries that signed PACER-Plus last month with Australia and New Zealand were unable to recognize that this agreement was little more than a remnant of the kind of neoliberal post-colonial trade agreement left lingering from the 20th-century.

Tonga, Niue, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Cook Islands were at the signing ceremony in Nuku’alofa while Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu opposed joining, and the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau were not in attendance.

As argued elsewhere on this site (here and here), Pacific Island Countries have a tremendous amount of equity, which if integrated and accounted for appropriately, can stand alongside other economic regions of the world. But as long as they remain tethered and accounted for by the old colonial administrations, the region as a whole will never attain the kind of self-determination necessary to overcome vulnerabilities, disparity, and fragility on its own terms.

Since the 2008 financial collapse and the formal emergence of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia India, China, South Africa) economies in 2014, the Forum Island Countries should have seen the rapid changes to the global economy, in favor of the new BRICS multipolar agenda.

Pacific Island governments are perhaps too prudent to rashly embrace the rapid changes to the global economy. This is by no means a fault that rests squarely on Pacific Island governments, as western donor interests continue to provide a reliable revenue stream on which Pacific peoples have come to depend. However, at this time, the Belt and Road Initiative is presenting an opportunity towards executing plans for infrastructure development in a maritime trade that is far beyond the scope of anything that the traditional donor countries can or have offered. What the PACER-Plus Agreement does is close the window for PICs to explore opportunities that would benefit the region as a whole, while opening the door for Australia and NZ to further exploit Pacific resource equity for their own benefit.

In less than five years, the rise of BRICS  has shifted the polarity of the world away from the unipolar neoliberal establishment and is likely to fundamentally revise the global supply chain as we know it, as these new institutions highlight:

• The New Development Bank and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (alternative institutions to the World Bank and the IMF, respectively);

• the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) capitalized by 57 nations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, including Australia and New Zealand;

• the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which now includes India and Pakistan, is the largest security organization in the world, and;

• the Belt and Road Initiative, which is potentially the largest infrastructure development initiative in history.

After the financial collapse, the unipolarity of US-led institutions clearly began to dwindle as soon as the Pacific Pivot, aka the Asia-Pacific Rebalance, cracked along the seams of its China-Russia containment policy. The strategy of obstruction and containment initiated by the Obama-Clinton era underscored the desperation to revive what had ostensibly motivated the 2008 financial collapse: essentially a credit/debt problem that pushed the U.S. debt level to what is currently $20 trillion, well over 105 percent of its GDP.

The hypocrisy of misinformation peddled by Western media about the South China Sea, the annexation of Crimea, the sinking of the Cheonan, the tragic destabilization of Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the “election tampering” aka regime change in Brazil, Argentina and potentially Venezuela are examples of a coordinated effort waged by Washington’s neoconservative elite to physically mainframe the obstruction of shipping and transport of goods and people by countries not aligned with their neoliberal policies. Even the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the so-called gold-standard of free trade for the 21st-century, was little more than a veiled attempt to bully China into accepting rules that would only further the influence of corporate governance. For those living under the shadow of neoliberalism, we understand first hand how the liberalized agenda on health, education, labor, and the environment, disguised as public-private partnerships, undermine our general welfare by capitulating to financial institutions and privatization initiatives.

It should come to no surprise that while Western markets are still very strong for investors, the unipolarity of US dominance has begun to wane. Washington’s agenda relies upon obstructing a multipolar paradigm for peace and cooperation in trade and development and continues to undermine and co-opt the vision for well-being created within international agreements and conventions.  The Belt and Road Initiative is not a China-first policy, nor a ruse for global corporate governance.  It does, however, come with new inconvenient challenges that can impact the social fabric of island life, but these challenges if examined closely, benefit the development for many, rather the consolidation of power for the few. Additionally, the BRICS model does not seek to promote regime change in order to fulfill a political or economic agenda and respects the administration of local governments and customary stakeholders.

PACER-plus, does little but entrap Pacific Island countries into an old post-colonial paradigm. As Australia and New Zealand entered into the Belt and Road Initiative as AIIB founding members, PACER-Plus provides them with greater equity, leverage, and influence. This occurs at the expense of a renewed ecologically-integrated Pacific who may have very well signed away the vision for reimagining a Pacific Way.


Marine Protected Areas in the Pacific are either territories or countries who have signed the PACER-Plus Agreement

As discussions over a Blue Economy framework have begun, the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road Blue Carbon Program” is a good example of how even Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will be treated differently. The Maritime Silk Road Blue Carbon Program appears to be an alternative to the UNESCO and IUCN proposed “Blue Carbon Initiative” introduced in partnership with Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy, the two main conservation groups pushing for privatization of conservation ecosystems. We mostly already know the various trade sectors that will benefit Australia and NZ, but conservation ecosystem is a sector that has received relatively little attention and as argued here, will either provide the greatest leverage of equity or be the biggest accounting swindle to PICs yet. In contrast with the Blue Carbon Initiative where the protection of marine and shoreline ecosystems will be accounted for by corporate interests through public-private partnerships, the BRI Maritime Silk Road program will offset carbon expenditures for states. This is a fundamental shift for the Pacific in that under the privatizing Blue Carbon Initiative, it is private industry and investors who will benefit from the value of the region’s ecosystem and biodiversity, while under the Belt and Road Initiative, developing countries and member governments will benefit.

Although there is no discussion of public-private partnerships in the BRI Maritime Silk Road vision statement, we still have yet to see what the technical cooperation and equity stakes on marine resources are going to be, and how it will provide the kind of resource stewardship that PICs envision. Personally, I believe that the value of our regional ecosystem should not be leveraged against carbon expenditures, but if the Forum Island Countries decide that the buy-in to meet the status quo is some kind of modified Cap and Trade program, then the region will be better off with the kind of flexibility that the Belt and Road Initiative purports.

Since expanding the Belt and Road Initiative across the Pacific would likely be AIIB funded, revenue and decision-making will come from founding member states.  It is important to consider that the Pacific should invest in the BRI as an integrated consortium because as equitable stakeholders, it’s important that they have a vote in the decision-making process.  As separate stakeholder countries, there is always the potential to negotiate against the interests of the broader Pacific, and PICs should at this time consider adopting an alternative vision that moves more quickly and beyond the privatization initiative of the PACER-Plus Agreement.
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