Civil society groups coalition to oppose mega trade deals in Asia Pacific region

By Joe C. Mathew, Business Today | August 1, 2016

Even as India is stepping up its engagement with 15 other countries for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), over 80 participants representing trade unions, farming communities, indigenous peoples, health networks, women’s organisations, academia and civil society organisations from across these countries met on 27-28 July in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to express concerns over the developments.

Stating that mega regional free trade agreements (FTAs) emerging in the region, including RCEP, posed threats to people’s lives and livelihoods, the civil society groups called for coordinated efforts to protect peoples’ rights. “We are laying the ground for coordinated actions, campaigns and advocacy to protect peoples’ rights in the region,” said Mohd Nizam Mahshar, Chairperson of BANTAH, a coalition of 60 Malaysian NGOs actively campaigning against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The initial day’s programme, webcasted live, included sessions on agreements on goods trade and its impact on labour, and services agreements and its impact on public services. Intellectual Property Rights and investment policies were also discussed.

The organisers criticised RCEP negotiating nations for keeping the draft agenda under wraps. “While corporate lobbies are invited to advise government officials, ordinary citizens who will live with the consequences have no say whatsoever,” said Jane Kelsey, Professor of Law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

According to the groups, the current agenda that is being pushed by the developed country members in the RCEP does not align with the developing country interests.

“ASEAN is pushing the corporate agenda through RCEP. Countries part of TPP3 are using RCEP to push US-designed ‘WTO-plus’ provisions onto the remaining RCEP members, which will only perpetuate inequalities,” said Joan Salvador, from GABRIELA, a national alliance of women in the Philippines and a member of South East Women’s Caucus on ASEAN.

Sixteen countries from the Asia-Pacific region are aiming to finalise RCEP by 2017.

The meeting was organised by Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD), Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), Focus on the Global South, Forum against FTAs-India, GRAIN, Public Services International (PSI), Third World Network (TWN) and Transnational Institute (TNI).

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