Reuters International

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia and New Zealand on Friday announced a joint funding package of A$7.7 million (£4.45 million) to help Pacific Island countries benefit economically from a soon-to-be completed landmark trade and development deal.

Senior representatives from 16 countries met in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday to negotiate the final terms of the 'Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus' (PACER Plus) agreement which aims to create jobs and raise standards of living in the Pacific region.

The ministers agreed to conclude negotiations by the end of October and seal the agreement by December, NZ minister of trade Todd McClay said in a statement.

Opportunities for economic development in Pacific Island countries are limited because of their small size and the difficulty achieving the economies of scale needed to compete in international markets.

A regional trade and economic integration agreement, expected to facilitate trade in the countries, is likely to help create jobs and wealth in the Pacific.

The Pacific Islands economy grew at 3.4 percent to $8.63 billion in 2015, according to World Bank data from eleven member countries that have a combined population of about 2.3 million.

The negotiations include all members of the Pacific Islands Forum: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.

(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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