The Constitution of the Office of Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA) was the main point of contention at the Forum Trade officials meeting in Palau last week, with Australia calling for a delay in the establishment of OCTA as an independent legal entity.

Despite OCTA’s Constitution being endorsed by all Forum island countries and its governing board, Australia expressed concerns about the Constitution and called for the incorporation of OCTA to be delayed and discussed at the next Forum Trade Ministers’ meeting in May. Incorporation has now been completed.

AID/WATCH Director, Gary Lee said “Establishment of OCTA as an independent legal entity is a significant step towards allowing Forum island countries to determine for themselves how they want to be represented during PACER-Plus negotiations.”

The OCTA, which is jointly funded by Australia and New Zealand, was established to provide support and advice to the Pacific Forum island countries during PACER-Plus negotiations. Forum island countries have repeatedly emphasised the critical importance of an independent OCTA that is controlled and owned by the island countries.

Australia has previously indicated that it will continue to provide financial support to the OCTA. However following the OCTA’s incorporation, it is unclear if funding will still be made available. The OCTA is expected to run out of current funding within 3 months.

“Australia has repeatedly stated that PACER-Plus is about responding to the needs identified by Pacific island countries. If this is the case, Australia should welcome and immediately commit funding to this move by Forum island countries to establish the OCTA as an independent body – a need that has repeatedly been identified by Forum island countries” commented Mr Lee.

“Trying to use its position as a major donor to the Forum island countries and OCTA to influence OCTA’s Constitution is unacceptable. This also goes against Australia’s commitment to increase aid effectiveness, of which a key principle is strengthening country ownership.” 

Further information, contact Gary Lee 0416 373 621

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