World Trade Organization
WTO Trade Policy Review of Tonga 2021 - Australia Statement
14 and 16 April 2021
Australia is pleased to participate in Tonga’s second Trade Policy Review. Australia and Tonga share a strong partnership, established on the longstanding and extensive people-to-people links between our two countries. Our cooperation spans trade, investment, labour mobility, security, development cooperation and sport. In addition to our bilateral engagement, our two countries work closely together at regional and global levels to promote the shared security, resilience and economic prosperity of the Blue Pacific.
Our close working relationship has reinforced Tonga’s resilience in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Australia congratulates Tonga on its early and ongoing action to remain free of the COVID-19 virus and to provide prompt economic support. Australia and Tonga agreed to restart our labour mobility programs in September 2020, providing a continuing flow of remittances to Tonga and economic benefits for both our countries. We are also pleased to be working closely with the Government of Tonga, the private sector, civil society and international development partners towards recovery in Tonga, including through Australia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative for the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
Since the last trade policy review in 2014, and prior to COVID-19, Tonga has faced a number of natural disasters including Tropical Cyclone Gita in 2018, the measles outbreak in 2019, and Tropical Cyclone Harold in 2020, all testing Tonga’s ability to respond and recover. Positioned second in the World Risk Index of natural disaster risk, Tonga has made great strides in its economic, trade and governance reform agenda and economic growth, all important for building resilience.
Tonga also faces socio-economic challenges associated with a high level of non-communicable diseases. Australia is supporting Tonga’s concerted efforts to promote consumption of healthy food, while respecting international trade obligations.
At a domestic level, we welcome Tonga finalising its second private sector development strategy in 2018 and launching its first trade policy framework (the Tonga Trade Policy Framework/TTPF 2017-2025) in 2020. TTPF’s focus on (i) improving the export competitiveness of Tongan businesses, (ii) supporting export development and trade facilitation, (iii) developing trade-supporting institutions and services, and (iv) inclusion and economic empowerment of citizens, aligns well with Tonga’s ambitions to participate in the multilateral trading system.
We note the concluding statement of the IMF Article IV Consultation Mission in 2020 emphasised the need for Tonga to unlock the potential of its private sector. This will help ensure a more sustainable balance of trade. We recognise a critical avenue for the Tongan Government to enhance exports is by ensuring effective regulatory and enforcement controls of agricultural goods export, particularly in relation to biosecurity. However, we encourage Tonga to ensure the agricultural and fisheries exports sector has high quality export infrastructure and accompanying policies that enable the private sector to assume responsibility for operation and management of export pathways.
At the regional level, Australia has appreciated Tonga’s membership of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus FTA. Tonga was a constructive partner during PACER Plus’s negotiations. We particularly thank Tonga for its efforts contributing to the timely entry into force of PACER Plus. Tonga has played the essential role of repository for the agreement and has overseen the ratification of eight Parties – including its own ratification in April 2020 as the fifth PACER Plus signatory to ratify the agreement. Tonga’s ratification also demonstrated to other members the importance of PACER Plus in supporting the long-term economic recovery from COVID-19 through re-establishing and boosting trade and investment links. With thanks to Tonga’s support, PACER Plus entered into force on 13 December 2020. Australia looks forward to our renewed engagement with Tonga as an FTA partner and realising the benefits of PACER Plus across our Pacific region.