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Tongan Women's Action for Change [TWAC]
Secretariat:
PO Box 2281
Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu
Ph# 14 625

02 November 2005

URGENT MEDIA RELEASE

There is great urgency to express our deep concern about Tonga’s accession negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. We understand that Tonga’s officials have been asked to file a final set of documents with the WTO by 7 November and that, if this happens, it is possible that the WTO will approve Tonga’s accession in December.

Our concerns begin with the fact that, although the negotiations have been going on for ten years, we believe that not all the churches, Tongan business, civil society and the Tongan people have been properly informed about what is being asked of Tonga by the WTO.

On 27 and 28 October, TWAC held a workshop, at which we invited speakers from Oxfam New Zealand to discuss the accession terms with us. Participants from all sectors were invited.

We consider that there are a number of terms in the agreement which have the potential to cause harm to Tonga, including:

  1. Once Tonga accedes on these terms, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change what has been agreed, even if we find out that we have made a big mistake;
  2. The CT and the other tax reforms that are required of Tonga by the WTO have been tried in other countries, where they have caused government revenue to drop dramatically. Tonga will not know whether this will happen here until after December. If Tonga realises next year that the new tax s.ystem is not working, its options for reform will be extremely limited if it has joined the WTO;
  3. The promises Tonga is being asked to make in relation to customs valuation, quarantine, intellectual property and other laws and regulations will be very expensive to implement. The countries demanding these things of Tonga have so far refused to help pay for them. The total cost is unknown. Also unknown is how Tonga will find the money to pay for them;
  4. One of the things Tonga is being asked to give up is any right to help local Tongan business to establish and become competitive. All the rich countries which have participated in the negotiations, including New Zealand, the USA, Japan and Korea, became rich by protecting their own business until it was strong. Tonga should have the right to do the same;
  5. Tonga is being asked to give up control of vital public services, including hospitals, schools and broadcasting. This could have far-reaching effects on Tongan society. New Zealand and the other countries which have participated in the negotiations have not made promises as broad as this, so why has Tonga come under pressure to do this?

There is nothing to prevent Tonga from delaying the process of accession to allow further consideration of these matters, and to allow the churches, Tongan businesspeople and the people of Tonga to be consulted about matters which will affect our future.

Accordingly, we respectfully request that the Government of Tonga delay the process, by not filing the documents due on 7 November, by asking that the meeting concerning Tonga’s accession which is scheduled for 14-18 November be deferred, and by not allowing the accession of Tonga to be agreed at the WTO in December.

  
For more information please contact the TWAC Secretariat on phone 14 625 or email baby_ofa@yahoo.com

'Ofa-Ki-Levuka Louise Guttenbeil-Likiliki
P.O Box 2281
Nuku'alofa
C/O Coconut Productions
Ph/Fax: (00676) 28 523
Mob:14 625