Pacific leaders have urged the Commonwealth Secretariat to ‘reshape and extend’ the Hub and Spokes programme beyond its proposed closure in November 2018.
The trade support programme, which benefits 15 Pacific countries as well as others in Africa and the Caribbean, is a joint initiative of the European Union, Commonwealth Secretariat, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).
Set up in 2004, it aims to strengthen the trade capacity of governments and regional organisations through the placement of trade advisers.
Meeting ahead of the 49th Pacific Islands Forum, Pacific members of the ACP Group (PACP) said the Commonwealth, in partnership with other development partners, should focus on supporting member countries in the “implementation of trade agreements, including increased involvement of PACP nationals”.
Leaders acknowledged the importance of Hub and Spokes and strongly commended its contributions to trade development work in the region.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland called for a similar aid-for-trade initiative to succeed the current one.
"Following close consultation with the regional stakeholders, a successor programme is currently being designed to align with Commonwealth and Pacific priorities," she said. “Improving trade skills and markets is a good strategy for more inclusive and sustainable economic growth. Small island states have small local markets, coupled with high costs and high prices."
Trade integration remains a key priority in the region, centred on trade and economic cooperation agreements such as the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), PICTA Trade in Services (PICTA TIS) Protocol, Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus).
Negotiation and implementation of these agreements comprises much of the portfolios of Hub and Spokes national and regional trade advisers. All six advisers supported Pacific island countries in the PACER Plus negotiations and agreement in 2017.
To date, national trade advisers have been deployed in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Marshall Islands and Kiribati, along with trade advisers based in the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) in Fiji. PIFS-based advisers support the regional trade agenda, as well as priority needs of smaller PACP countries.