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.