The global coronavirus pandemic has closed borders across the Pacific region since 2020 and subsequently disrupted tourism and trade between Australia and many Pacific island countries. Unsurprisingly the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted every area of consideration throughout the inquiry into activating Australia’s trade and investment with Pacific island countries.
Measures aimed at protecting public health from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic have had a devastating economic impact on many Pacific island countries, especially those islands more reliant on international tourism or communities receiving remittances from seasonal workers employed across many sectors in Australia. The complex challenges imposed on economies and societies across the Pacific, Australia included, reinforce the importance of strong, transparent and predictable trade and investment relations.
This report outlines the significant role the Australian economy may be able to play in the region, through improved and more open trade relations with Pacific nations. The sub-committee recognises the growing importance of labour mobility and remittances to many families and communities in Pacific island countries, and the devastating economic impact of the travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. This highlights the need, in accordance with relevant public health advice, for a safe travel bubble to be developed between Australia and those Pacific islands countries willing to participate. This will not only support Australia’s trade and investment ties with the Pacific, but is critical to supporting Pacific employees and their communities abroad. Also critical will be job creating investment to improve the Pacific’s lagging infrastructure across the islands. Much will be gained by Australia and the Pacific nations embracing the Pacific Quality Infrastructure Initiative to support the delivery of quality infrastructure and assist with further economic development.
The Trade Sub-Committee supports the implementation of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) with Pacific island countries. Members also want the Australian Government to forge closer economic ties with two key nations outside of PACER Plus – in Papua New Guinea and Fiji. The sub-committee agreed with pursuing measures to develop with Australian expertise and support for a regional Pacific standard to assist both Australian and Pacific exporters or service providers to activate their trade opportunities and gain easier access to larger markets.
With sporting linkages between Australia and Pacific islander people long established, the selection of the Pacific gateway state of Queensland to stage the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics also represents another opportunity to strengthen these bonds and open the door to related business opportunities.
Like some Australians, the sub-committee was not fully aware of the deep cultural and economic significance of drinking the ceremonial beverage of kava to the people of many Pacific island countries and their diaspora living in Australia. Members welcomed any moves to expand a regulated market in Australia for the safe consumption of kava and opening up trade opportunities.
I thank our Committee Chair Senator the Hon David Fawcett, my sub-committee Deputy Chair Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, and my fellow committee members. I also acknowledge and appreciate all the efforts of those who have participated in the inquiry by writing submissions or appearing at public hearings despite the travel limitations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A special mention must also go to the diplomatic and government representatives of Pacific island countries who attended, in person and by teleconference, a parliamentary roundtable in Canberra, and shared invaluable insights on the challenges faced by communities on their home islands and the opportunities ahead.
Mr Ted O’Brien MP

 |  Contents  | 

About this inquiry

The Committee will examine the conditions necessary to activate greater trade and investment with countries of the Pacific region to the benefit of Australia and our Pacific neighbours.

Past Public Hearings

12 Nov 2020: Canberra
02 Nov 2020: Brisbane
04 Sep 2020: Canberra