Vanuatu daily news digest | Free trade threatens custom land

The normal Digest will be later today and cover local press reports for yesterday and today. In the meantime, however, an important release concerning a briefing paper from PANG …

Free Trade threatens custom land in the Pacific

The Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) have launched a briefing paper today outlining the many complex and dangerous ways that free trade agreements can impact and undermine custom land systems in the Pacific Islands.

“Custom land is so central to life in the Pacific Islands that its importance cannot be overstated. Yet through the eyes of free trade agreements it is seen as a barrier to investment, something that needs to be challenged,” commented PANG Campaigner Adam Wolfenden.

The briefing paper outlines many of the common questions about free trade and what it means for custom land in the Pacific Islands.

“Previous attempts to privatise land in the Pacific have been meet with a strong refusal by Islanders. What we’re seeing now is free trade advocates using these agreements to secure control over the usage of the land, which can in effect mean that custom decisions about land use are undermined” added Mr Wolfenden.

“We’re seeing this in Vanuatu where its Trade in Services commitments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) mean the government’s ability to specifically support and nurture land use for Indigenous enterprise, such as local burree owners or other tourist accommodation, can only happen if it gives the same support to foreign investors” continued Mr Wolfenden.

The briefing paper explains the way that free trade undervalues local foods, determines land use, how foreign investment acts as
land-grabbing, and how for some Pacific Island Countries foreign corporations can sue the governments in international arbitration.

“Free Trade Agreements result in governments making binding
commitments on their ability to regulate services and investment. Often there are unintentional consequences that come from such commitments resulting in unexpected restrictions being made on how land use is determined” stated Mr Wolfenden

“The push for the Pacific Islands to become integrated into the global economy is a push to ask the Pacific to turn its back on the systems and cultural practices that have supported them for generations. These are the systems that work for the Pacific and reflect its reality, not some theoretical idea of what should work best” concluded Mr Wolfenden.

The paper is available at http://www.pang.org.fj