7 February 2013
Trade officials from 13 Commonwealth Pacific countries are meeting in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, for a week-long training course on negotiating investment and trade deals.
Veniana Qalo, acting head of international trade at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said the training will assist countries to develop useful and relevant national trade policies and to participate effectively in negotiations for investment and trade agreements that benefit their people.
The workshop is a joint initiative between the Secretariat and the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA), a body that helps countries in the region negotiate with their main trading partners - Australia and New Zealand.
Yuri Buraman from Nauru said: “I am learning a lot from the exercises and simulations. This is the first time I have gone through training on how to formulate trade policies. I believe I will be much better at my job when I return home.”
Sumbule Antas, Vanuatu Director of External Trade, said his department is in dire need of trained and skilled staff to handle the complex issues the country has to deal with in regional and international negotiations.
“I have only four members of staff, who have little experience in working on trade issues. In fact, some of them have only spent three months on the job. This training from the Commonwealth Secretariat is timely.”
The workshop accompanied the launch of a landmark Commonwealth publication for international investment negotiators in interpreting the complexity of investment agreements.
The handbook, ‘Integrating Sustainable Development into International Investment Agreements: A Guide for Developing Country Negotiators’, aims to enable Commonwealth governments to arrive at international investment agreements that support their development needs.
The Guide can also be used by countries negotiating bilateral investment treaties, while various provisions may also be suitable for inclusion in economic partnership agreements, preferential trading agreements and other international agreements relating to investment.
Ms Qalo said that for most developing countries, particularly those in the Pacific region, international investment agreements have not been very effective tools for attracting foreign direct investments.
“Sometimes, the balance between rights and obligations of the investor versus the host state has weighed in favour of the former, given the fact that these agreements are negotiated among unequal partners. It is for this reason that the Commonwealth undertook a process to come up with this Guide, which helps to strike a balance between the interests of both parties.”
Ms Qalo explained that the Guide identifies new ways to modify traditional investment agreements that often left host countries with limited flexibility. It also describes new types of sustainable development provisions for inclusion in future agreements, such as human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and corruption, and explains implications of investment agreements and evaluates their costs and benefits.
The Guide is a useful tool for negotiators, but also for use as a teaching aid at universities for students of international trade, law and investment, she added.
Dr Edwini Kessie, the Chief Trade Adviser at OCTA, welcomed the publication and recommended it for use by anyone interested in trade and investment issues in the Pacific, saying that “investment is a key component for promoting trade”.
“Good quality investments provide the basis for production of goods and services for export trade in a country. And this region really needs a lot of good investments to realise their trade objectives,” he said.
“Whatever we can do to assist countries in the region to make sound investments is very welcome, and this Commonwealth guide goes a long way to serve that purpose.”
Mere Falemaka, Director of Trade and Investment at the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat, a regional intergovernmental body, thanked the Commonwealth for keeping the issues of small states in the Pacific on its agenda.
“We are delighted that the Commonwealth has kept the Pacific on its radar all the time. The first consultations for developing this Guide took place in the Pacific. We are happy that the Commonwealth has come back to show and share with us the product of that consultation,” Ms Falekama said.