Fiji will not take part in talks to set up a Pacific free trade area while it is suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum, a spokeswoman for Trade Minister Tim Groser confirmed today.
Fiji has not been invited to informal talks in Auckland this weekend called to discuss ways to progress a Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (Pacer).
Trade ministers from the forum's 15 other member states were invited to the Auckland meeting, although not all of them will be able to attend.
Pacer has been on the agenda for more than a decade, with the aim of helping island nations develop their economies.
New Zealand and Australia are keen to set it up but they are looking for an arrangement which benefits the small economies rather than their own.
"The general thinking is that the final product needs to be tilted in favour of the Pacific, one source said.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully spoke on Friday about the trade imbalance between New Zealand and the islands.
"Our billion-dollar export trade into the Pacific has been reciprocated by imports from Pacific nations so miserly that they should be a source of national embarrassment," he said.
New Zealand research and education network Arena yesterday suggested the Pacer talks be put on ice.
"If Fiji is excluded, what purpose do the negotiations have when one of the two largest economies in the Pacific, alongside Papua New Guinea, is not at the table," said Arena spokeswoman Jane Kelsey.
The region's major powers wanted to announce the start of a formal process of consultations leading to negotiations at the forum summit meeting in Cairns in August, she said - NZPA