What is the ‘Plus’ in PACER Plus?

This piece was written before the official text of the PACER PLUS agreement was made publicly available. The PACER PLUS agreement has since been signed by ten Pacific Island countries at a special ceremony in NUKU’ALOFA Tonga on Wednesday 14 June 2017. (Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu) 


A big part of the narrative around PACER Plus has been that it is more than just a standard free trade agreement. The ‘plus’ as far as Australia and New Zealand are concerned is the inclusion of a chapter on development assistance. For much of the negotiation period, Pacific island negotiators have attempted to get the ‘plus’ to include guarantees around labour mobility.

Development Assistance

  • The text of the agreement is not yet public so we do not know what the details are but we expect to see a chapter on ‘development assistance’
  • An amount of AUD50million has been nominated but it is not clear if this is ‘new’ money
  • The development assistance is expected to take the form of aid for trade facilitation. Matthew Dornan argues (forthcoming on East Asia Forum) that this is unlikely to overcome key, longstanding blockages such as domestic macro economic reform
  • Australia & NZ have undertaken to meet costs of implementation by Pacific island countries, including a secretariat, expected to be located in Vanuatu

Labour Mobility

  • The agreement will include a chapter on labour mobility, but will not bind Australia & NZ to provide opportunities
  • Recent movements – especially by Australia – to expand existing labour mobility schemes may be a result of ongoing pressure by Pacific island negotiators on this
  • Recent comments by the PM of Vanuatu imply that signing up to PACER Plus is required to maintain & grow RSE/SWP participation
  • PACER Plus enshrines an annual meeting to review and progress issues relating to labour mobility between signatory countries


As Matthew Dornan has noted, the views on PACER Plus have long been and continue to be polarised. A deal has now been struck bringing to an end nearly a decade of negotiations. The ‘Plus’ elements are present in the agreement although not prominent. Whether the time and energy devoted to this process has been well spent remains to be seen.

Written by Tess Newton Cain, TNC Pacific Consulting

Download PDF: ROI What is the ‘Plus’ in PACER Plus?

Useful links:

Official PACER PLUS text: https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/trade/free-trade-agreements/agreements-under-negotiation/pacer/pacer-plus-full-text/

OCTA Office of the Chief Trade Advisor: http://www.octapic.org

PANG: Pacific Network on Globalisation: resource materials

PACER Plus focus not the right one for the Pacific, ABC NEWS: Pacific Beat, 16 June 2017

Brief analysis of PACER Plus legal text, Daniel Gay, Pacific Islands News Association, 12 June 2017

PACER Plus is not much to celebrate, Mathew Dornan, EAST ASIA FORUM, 2 June 2017

The conflicting interests within Pacer Plus, Zihan Xiong and Justin Guo, Penn Wharton University of Pennsylvania: Public Policy Initiative, 17 May 2017