I come from the State of Kerala in India, for whom the Plantation crops are an important part of our economy. When the Indo-ASEAN FTA was being negotiated 7 years ago, we, as community and as the Govt of the State of Kerala, had predicted that the FTA and the reduction in tariffs would impact us seriously, especially in rubber, and spices. 7 years hence, we now know that imports have increased and prices have fallen and our farmers are the worst off. Our federal govt which went ahead with signing the deal, have done nothing whatsoever to compensate or support the farmers. whose lives and livelihoods have been affected. Today, the local state govt is spending Rs 5 billion every year to compensate the rubber farmers for the price fall, and its only able to reach 30% of the rubber farmers. The rest is forced to fend for themselves.
Our experience with the FTA, gives us great clarity on whats in store for us in the present larger RCEP, that would force nations to bring down almost all products to zero tariffs. As farmers, petty producers and even the local self governments in India, we would be finished. And we cannot allow any compromise on the livelihood of our majority.
Now, coming to the intent of my presentation, I wish to draw the attention of all the negotiators to the possibly non-existing chapter in the RCEP negotiating text – an important one that matters most of our nations – Democracy, Transparency, Right of stakeholders to information and consultation and finally Consent. This chapter seems to be clearly absent because these democratic nations in the last five years have been sitting on 19 ministerials and various meetings in total secrecy. This is unacceptable. This negotiation which decides the fate of half the world is being done by negotiators, supposedly representing the interests of millions. I wish to state that this 99% stakeholders, the millions have the right to know what this 1% around the table is actually trading off and trading in.
So, lets come to the point – we have three demands
- We demand transparency. The RCEP negotiation cannot go on in secrecy. This is not a business meet. This is a ministerial of States representing its people. And the people have to know. We cannot allow the negotiation to go forward without the text in the public domain. So, we demand that the text in its whatever present state of negotiations be released.
- We demand that nation parties conduct Sectoral impact Assessments covering social, economic, environmental, and most importantly livelihood impacts of a possible RCEP treaty, and with this assessment made public, conduct consultations and obtain consent from the stake holders before going ahead with negotiations. The stakes are too much and the impacts could be disastrous and sometimes fatal as is being seen in some of the sectors in India, like all the primary production sectors.
- We demand that such consultations be done in a democratic, inclusive and transparent manner and not as was done now, where a small window of consultation was opened up under immense pressure from the civil society.
Here we wish to state that while a few of us did accept and participate in this consultation, we also want to tell the floor of negotiators in the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) that the larger stake holders who are all assembled in Hyderabad under the platform of the People’s Resistance Forum against FTAs & RCEP where hundreds representing major organizations, trade unions and people’s movements of peasants, agricultural workers, animal-rearers, plantation workers, women farmers, fish-workers, trade unions, industrial and mining workers, street vendors, informal workers, sex workers, insurance and bank employees, public services employees, students, IT engineers, science teachers, HIV-positive persons, women’s organizations, Dalits, adivasis, and Denotified-tribes, all STAKEHOLDERS of RCEP, declares that this consultation is a SHAM, and that they Boycott this consultation. I am also here to communicate this to the TNC. The Boycott Call is being distributed here.
I also wish to communicate to the TNC that the onus is on the RCEP negotiators to engage meaningfully in this debate or face wholesale opposition from the stakeholders. The People’s Convention also wish to tell the Indian government which is also the host of this round that the government should not go ahead with these negotiations without discussion in the Parliament, with state governments, and meaningful, transparent, widespread consultations. The negotiation process
so far is a mockery of democracy in a nation that prides itself as the world’s biggest democracy.
We appeal to this largest democratic nation, to lead by example and call for wider stakeholder consultations before going ahead with further negotiations in the RCEP.
We appeal to the TNC to uphold the values, tenets and practices of democratic processes before going ahead with further negotiations in the RCEP.