Tonga's WTO membership doubtful

Nuku'alofa, Tonga:

TONGA'S plan to become a member of the World Trade Organisation WTO in July this year is now very doubtful, according to Paulo Kautoke, the Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Labour Commerce and Industries.

Paulo said this morning that nothing has been done to Tonga's application for a WTO membership since it was deferred last June for 12 months. He said that the event of November 16 last year and the reconstruction of Nuku'alofa has preoccupied government, but "hopefully by the end of this month or early next month, Government will be in a good position to make a firm decision with regards to Tonga's accession to the WTO," said Paulo.

Tonga was scheduled to accede to the WTO in July last year, but it was deferred to enable Tonga to fulfill some essential requirements, such as the implementation of a new taxation system, and a new tariff system. The numerous disruptions in the proceeding of the Tongan parliament last year, and its abrupt closure in November left a number of legislations which were essential for the economic development of the country unattended to.

Tonga, since 1995 has been restructuring it economy with the intention of eventually becoming a member of the WTO and be part of the Global Economy, but the event of 16/11 has force a halt on a number of these development programs.

08 Feb 2007, 17:25


and from http://snap.enzyme.org.nz/2005_11_01_archive.html an insightful post by Sam Buchanan:

Tongan government makes mad dash for the WTO

Sometime ago, I recall an anarchist commenting that if you are trying to judge the morality of a nominally democratic government, such as ours, check out its foreign policy.

His reasoning was that this is where you see the government with its gloves off. Largely unencumbered by the need to seek electoral support and working in an area few people follow closely, the state is able to pursue its agenda bluntly and unpleasantly as it chooses.

An example is our supposedly democratic government’s willingness to snuggle up with democratically-challenged governments such as Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Tonga.

A small, but icky, little example involving New Zealand’s relationship with the latter surfaced recently. Tonga has been pursuing membership of the WTO and expected to sign up at the Hong Kong ministerial in December. The New Zealand government has been supporting the process. Amongst many other things forming part of its accession to the WTO, Tonga is offering to open up much of its service sector to foreign competition. This includes sectors such as air transport, hospitals, broadcasting, all forms of education, sewage and sanitation, financial services, construction, as well as business and professional services such as lawyers and accountants. This goes way beyond the commitments other WTO members, such as New Zealand, have made.

A member of the Tongan Anglican church, the Reverend Tevita Koloamatangi described opening up Tonga’s economy to foreign competition as “A bit like asking the All Blacks to play a village team in Tonga”.

Tongans feel they’ve been left completely in the dark about these plans. There’s been no public debate and very little information available. Churches and civil society groups, along with representatives of development agency Oxfam, met recently and asked that the process be put on hold until people had time to become informed and debate these proposals.

Koloamatangi took this decision to a meeting with officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently and asked that New Zealand stop supporting the accession process. The response was blunt – New Zealand has committed to supporting Tonga’s accession to the WTO and isn’t going to change that. According to MFAT, to do so would be interfering in Tonga’s affairs.

This raises lots of questions – why did the New Zealand government commit itself to supporting an undemocratic process? Why is backing the Tongan government OK, but backing the Tongan people “interference”?

At very least, the New Zealand government has been incompetent in promising support for a decision without requiring it to be made with some transparency and democracy. More cynically, it looks as if the government has used Tonga’s lack of democracy to lever open Tonga’s economy to competition, regardless of the wishes of its people.

Sam Buchanan

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