Signs of panic can be found in the Department of Trace Commerce and Industry's defense of the PMIZ of late. First, the bungled Summons against it public critics, which eventuated in Human Rights cases being lodged against the Department. Now rumours of rogue state behavior being expressed by Minister Richard Maru as he shops the project in Europe. Fellow-PNG Pacific Island countries have failed to sign up for the industrial zone despite terms favorable enough to be considered unfavorable to the host country. And now, despite professed loyalty to the PNA and the region, Maru is now shopping the boondoggle to European canneries, thereby jeopardizing everything the Partners of the Nauru Agreement stand for in the first place. Now we learn that Maru would risk all Pacific trade relationships to stand alone in the Interim EPA that exists between PNG and the European Union, rather than move toward a collective and comprehensive EPA alongside its regional neighbours.
That's a big F U to the other Partners of the Nauru Agreement and other Pacific Island States.
If this is the extent to which Maru is willing to go, we only have to ask what he personally has at stake.
Where is the money from the Exim Bank loan? How has it been acquitted? What accounting has been done on this US$95 million loan? Where is the investment to date?
We may be witnessing the desperate stratagems of a marked man. Will he barricade himself inside a Gold Coast mansion (purchased perhaps in a wife's name, or that of a holding company with a perfunctory name)? Will he turn 'State's evidence' against fellow PMIZ campaigners like Gabriel Kapris and Sylvester Pokajam, in an effort to save himself?
A couple of weeks ago, observers were prepared to find all manner of media slander against the 11 Defendants in the gagging order initiated by the Department of Trace, Commerce and Industry. But despite noises about sinister NGOs and anti-development conspirators, little has emerged to destabilize their credibility.
Now we enter a fugue state where Minister Maru is literally capable of saying anything to save his skin.
Papua New Guinea has officially withdrawn from being a part of a Pacific island bloc to negotiate a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
Instead, PNG will continue trade discussions with the EU under the Interim EPA that it currently has.
Trade Minister, Richard Maru, made this announcement today saying this is done to safeguard PNG's current trade arrangements with the EU and to further strengthen this relationship.
This announcement follows an intensive trip to Europe which started off in London with the UK-PNG Trade Investment Forum.
According to Maru, PNG is on a path to be on the EU's good side and make PNG's presence known in the European markets.
The strongest message PNG made was to announce in no uncertain terms that it is no longer interested in negotiating a comprehensive EPA.
“Papua New Guinea withdraws from all EPA negotiations, will not be part of any Pacific islands trade negotiating team, we will not attend any meetings as of today,” he said. Maru says this is to protect PNGs interest, most notably the K95 million PMIZ project in Madang. He said PMIZ is only “feasibly and viable ” because of PNG's Interim EPA with the EU and PNG is not about to jeopardize that.
“In our talks we told the EU that, of the 10 canneries in Madang, 5 will be given to European companies.”
The discussions towards a more comprehensive EPA between the EU and 14 other Pacific Island countries have dragged on for 12 years.
In 2007, while the comprehensive EPA was still being negotiated, Fiji and PNG signed Interim EPA's with the EU.
While this decision will affect other smaller pacific island countries, Director General for Trade, Ambassador Max Rai says the decision has been made.
“The (PNG) government has taken a stand now and we hope the message ripples right across the Pacific, that this (comprehensive EPA) will be a really wasteful effort. ”
Ambassador Rai said, they hope a comprehensive EPA with the EU will not be part of the agenda in the upcoming Pacific Islands Leaders Forum that will be in Port Moresby.
The other leg of the European tour was spent in Geneva, Poland and Brussels where talks were held with various prospective companies where discussions around downsteam processing were discussed.
The delegation was also on the lookout for companies in the field of telecommunication, shipping, banking and arilines to “drive the cost of business down” Minister Maru said.