Delivered by Ambassador Dennis Shea
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization
Geneva, October 23, 2018
Thank you Chair. The United States extends a warm welcome to the delegation from Vanuatu led by Acting Director General Tekon and the Pacific Island Forum’s Representative, Ambassador Spencer. It is a privilege to be part of history in the making as was noted earlier.
We first would like to note that the United States is committed to maintaining strong engagement with the members of the Pacific Islands Forum as part of our Indo-Pacific Strategy. This month senior U.S. trade officials spent a week in the South Pacific meeting with members of the public and private sectors to discuss ways in which the U.S. and Pacific Island Forum members can increase trade ties through the U.S. GSP program. Since Vanuatu’s accession to the WTO, we have also worked with the Pacific Islands Forum to update the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, provided more than $2 million in foreign aid assistance following Tropical Cyclone Pam and are currently expanding the size of our mission to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
The United States congratulates Vanuatu on its first Trade Policy Review since becoming the 157thmember of the WTO in 2012 and commends the government of Vanuatu for its commitment to ensuring the people of Vanuatu benefit from international trade to the greatest extent possible. Officials from Vanuatu have engaged with the WTO Institute for Training and Technical Cooperation to improve their understanding of WTO principles, taken advantage of opportunities to learn how to better utilize the U.S. GSP program and are working with the Pacific Islands Forum to voice the interests of the South Pacific’s economies in other regional bodies such as APEC. The U.S. recognizes these efforts and believes Vanuatu and other Pacific Island nations’ participation in global trade fora such as the WTO is important in ensuring their trade interests are considered and they form part of the global economic development process.
Vanuatu has committed to ensuring international trade continues to serve as a focal point of its long-term development plans. As noted within its National Development Strategy, Vanuatu’s trade policy objectives are to stimulate sustainable and equitable growth by increasing trade and investment opportunities, increasing access to markets for local exports, requiring all new trade agreements demonstrate tangible benefits in Vanuatu’s national interest, and stimulating economic diversification. These objectives seem appropriate and reasonable ways to deepen Vanuatu’s integration into the global economy and increase the benefits to Vanuatu’s people from international trade.
The Secretariat report notes that Vanuatu has developed multiple initiatives to improve access to credit, including the establishment of a National Financial Inclusion Task Force, the launching of a National Financial Inclusion Strategy and the creation of bank-operated financial literacy programs. We would encourage Vanuatu to continue these efforts as access to credit remains the largest constraint for local agriculture development, a significant issue considering agriculture accounts for more than one-fifth of Vanuatu’s GDP and nearly all of its merchandise exports.
Noting the services sector accounts for nearly two-thirds of Vanuatu’s GDP, the U.S. appreciates the steps Vanuatu has taken in making commitments under GATS across several services sectors. Regarding merchandise exports, while Vanuatu has notified its Category A, B, and C commitments with respect to the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), it has not yet ratified the TFA as noted earlier. The United States encourages Vanuatu to do so. Ensuring ratification of the TFA will also help address customs and trade facilitation issues, supporting Vanuatu’s agricultural exports sectors.
As noted in the Secretariat report, Vanuatu has outstanding notifications to the WTO in several areas including customs valuation, import licensing procedures and subsidies and countervailing measures. We encourage Vanuatu, and other WTO members, to maintain their commitment to submit notifications to the best extent possible to ensure the proper functioning of WTO agreements.
The United States commends Vanuatu for its efforts in combating IUU fishing activities through its 2014 Fisheries Act, a positive step in ensuring the integrity of fisheries management within the region. As part of its National Fisheries Sector Policy document, Vanuatu notes that room for improvement remains with respect to monitoring and ensuring the proper treatment of workers on fishing vessels. Recognizing the resource constraints Vanuatu faces, the United States encourages officials in Vanuatu to develop adequate policies to ensure adherence to international labor standards.
The United States would also encourage further domestic regulatory reforms to continue improving Vanuatu’s business enabling environment. Vanuatu currently ranks 90th out of 190 economies on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, with its lowest scores in dealing with construction permits (151st), trading across borders (143rd), enforcing contracts (135th), and starting a business (128th). Streamlining this process would facilitate trade, investment and growth.
The United States appreciates Vanuatu’s efforts to prepare for this review and commends Vanuatu for its demonstrated accomplishments in trade and investment reform. The United States wishes the delegation of Vanuatu a successful review, and we look forward to continued dialogue with Vanuatu and other members of the Pacific Islands Forum at the WTO and on a bilateral basis.