A New Page

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Note: This week marks the beginning of my second year holding forth on the editorial page of the Daily Post. Thanks to all of you who offered kind words and wise counsel over the last 52 weeks. Thanks especially to the editors and staff of this paper. Your patience, tolerance and assistance have been invaluable.

There’s been a lot of concern of late over the apparent impatience shown by Australia and New Zealand to engage with their Pacific Island neighbours on the PACER Plus round of trade talks. Local commentators have had little good to say about the prospects, and speculation has been rife over what’s really at stake.

The strongest fear expressed by commentators throughout the Pacific is that New Zealand and Australia will use their foreign aid to the region as a stick to bring the small island states into line. Having witnessed the drubbing that Fiji and PNG took in their Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to see their economic health similarly threatened.

This week, Pablo Kang, Australia’s new High Commissioner to Vanuatu, published a surprisingly intemperate letter to the Editor in this newspaper. He was rightly chastised for the distinctly un-Melanesian tone he took in confronting nay-sayers. Vanuatu has spent years assiduously cultivating a cordial, solidly two-way engagement with its development partners that allows it to assert its own priorities. This week’s pronouncements reminded some of a repeat from the Howard/Downer show.

But, lest the baby exit with the bath water, it needs to be said that one key observation that High Commissioner Kang shared with us in undoubtedly true: As things stand right now, PACER Plus is still a blank page.

It’s ours to write on as much as theirs. Maybe more so, if we play our cards right.

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