The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade is commencing an extensive series of national consultations this week on Solomon Islands' trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, commonly referred to as 'PACER Plus'.

This round of national consultations will take place over the coming months.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Hon. Peter Agovaka Shanel, has called a meeting of all Permanent Secretaries and selected Heads of Divisions on Thursday 14th April 2011 with the purpose of briefing the Government on PACER Plus and outlining the importance of the active participation of all stakeholders in this process.

The meeting will be followed up by individual appointments with all stakeholders in trade.

PACER Plus is a process launched by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2008 and now being developed to discuss, more broadly, regional economic integration of Forum Island Countries with Australia and New Zealand.

Trade Ministers have since identified a number of priority subjects for negotiation - rules of origin, trade facilitation, labour mobility, development assistance and infrastructure.

At this stage, it is not clear what issues will be included in PACER Plus or the shape of the final package.

In its regional meetings, Solomon Islands has continually emphasized the importance of comprehensive and ongoing national consultations to ensure that it is able to negotiate a PACER Plus outcome that is development-enhancing for the country.

The series of national consultations planned for April to August 2011 will engage all sections of society and will consist of detailed meetings planned with government institutions, private sector and civil society representatives as well as plans to take the consultative process to a number of Provinces.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade is stressing the need for PACER Plus consultations to be truly national and inclusive to ensure that the benefits of a future agreement significantly outweigh the costs and that Solomon Islands is in a position to take advantage of any trading opportunities arising from the negotiations.

The Ministry will be assisted in its consultations by independent trade expert, Professor Robert Scollay.

Professor Scollay, who is affiliated with the University of Auckland, has extensive experience in trade policy and trade negotiations.

He has undertaken a lot of work over the years on behalf of the Pacific Island Countries and is very familiar with Solomon Islands' trading relationships.

Any questions related to the process of PACER Plus national consultations can be directed to the Department of External Trade of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade.