Stakeholder Intervention at 19th RCEP negotiations round- Rizalito R. Lopez Tambuyog Development Center on Fisheries

POSITION  PAPER  ON  RCEP prepared  by Tambuyog Development Center, a non-government  organization  on fisheries,  particularly the  municipal/ artisanal fishers. It  is  a member  of  South East  Asia  Fish  for  Justice  Network (SEAFish-J),  it is  a coalition  of  NGOs  and  National  Fishers  Federations in 7  ASEAN Member Countries, which serves as  a voice  for at least 25 million municipal and artisanal  fishers in South East  Asia.

To  RCEP Negotiators:

Most  management  regimes  in  fisheries  and coastal  resources  in Southeast  Asian  countries  are still  considered  fundamentally   de facto  open-access, that is  institutions  are  still  weak to enforce laws  that protect  the  poor  fisherfolks and their fishing grounds  from  the encroachment  by illegal, destructive, and unsustainable  fishing  and aquaculture  practices.    In this  context, allowing foreign  investments in fisheries  would only  encourage further depletion of fish stocks,   destruction   of  coastal  habitats, and  eventual  displacement  of many  poor  fisherfolk communities  from  their livelihoods.

In the  Philippines, the municipal/ artisanal  fishers  have  preferential right by law  to benefit from the use  of  municipal  waters, which cover 15 kilometers  seaward from the  shoreline. Given the  power  of  Free Trade Agreements   to influence changes  and challenge national  policy,    this  preferential right of  fishers might  be rendered  innefective  when foreign investors are  to  be allowed  to   invest  to operate  fishing vessels  in Philippine territorial waters.

At  present, the  developed   countries in RCEP  have better market access, technology, and management procedures than least  developed countries (LDCs). Foreign  companies that process and market fish would find it attractive to invest in fishing vessels in least developed  countries  to  secure more control over their sources of supply and the entire value chain.   Fishing industry  players  in least developed countries (LDCs)   would  eventually lose-out  to their  more  advanced  foreign competitors in both export  markets and the local processing industries. And  since most of the investments are geared toward the export market, the impacts of resource extraction should be given due consideration.

Investors are there  to  optimize  profits. They  would cease to operate once profits are no longer attractive because the  fishery and natural  resources are  already depleted.  Oftentimes the firms  would leave  without  incurring accountability in restoring the  natural  resources.   When a   foreign  company  caused the  depletion of  blue-swimming  crabs in the Philippines, it  just  transferred  most  of  its  investment in  Indonesia to  do business as  usual, without  accountability to restore or  spend  for the   restoration of  the  stocks .

Fish remains as a cheap source of protein in the rural areas  in the least developed countries in  South East  Asia. Export-driven investment  in the fishery and  aquaculture  sector  will  have serious implications to  domestic food security.

With this  foregoing concerns, we call to you, Negotiators of  RCEP   to  respect  national  laws  which  give protection  and  welfare  to the poorest sectors  of LDCs;  protect   the  preferential  rights  of  municipal / artisanal  fishers  to benefit from defined  fishing grounds for them.

We  call  on all governments involved in RCEP  to  take  fisheries  out  of  the investment  chapter.

As  most  of  you  are also negotiators in the WTO, I also want  to share  this with you:

In the  WTO, the  developed  countries and  least developed countries (LDCs)  are not  on equal footing:  For  a long  time, the  fishing  industry  in  developed  countries  have  enjoyed   large  subsidies  that  led  to  the advancement of  their technology  in the pre, actual, and post  harvest  stages  of  fishing. On the  other hand, the  fishing industry  players  in  least  developed countries  are   just  learning  and  starting  to  modernize  to be more efficient  and  increase value addition  to their  fish products. To level  the  playing  field, WTO  should stop  developed  countries  in subsidizing fishing  that  contribute to  overfishing and overcapacity, while industry players in   LDCs  should  be  allowed  to have   subsidies to  develop their capacity for growth and be more competitive,  with consideration to sustainable  harvest  limits of fisheries.

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