People Over Profit Statement on the 18th Round of Negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in Manila, Philippines 10 May 2017
Amid growing dissent and discontent globally against neoliberal free trade and investment agreements (FTAs), trade negotiators from the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) gather in Manila, Philippines for its 18th Trade Negotiating Committee Meeting. The People Over Profit network – a global alliance of NGOs and social movements against FTAs and corporate plunder joins the growing people’s resistance firmly opposing RCEP and its impending impacts on people’s rights across the region.
A loss of traction on the now derailed Trans-Pacific Partnership marked greater pressure for negotiators to finish the China-backed RCEP. With major contentions still unresolved however, a deadline to finish negotiations by the end of 217 seems an unlikely target especially now that TPP members within RCEP such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea are forwarding TPP provisions into the RCEP text. RCEP remains one of the major trade deals still under negotiation – leading some commentators to label it as the “only game in town.” With high stakes for rich industrialized countries participating in the trade deal, governments are now scuttling to resolve issues and accelerate the pace of negotiations.
But governments and corporations are not the only players in town. People’s organizations and civil society groups from across the region have been at the forefront of opposing RCEP. For peoples of the region, RCEP will only worsen widespread poverty, injustice and inequality. Through its services and investment chapters, RCEP will inevitable promote the contractualization of labor and would mean a race to the bottom for wages and labor standards. The trade deal will violate farmers’ rights to seeds through provisions on intellectual property that force member countries to join the UPOV 1991 – essentially facilitating corporate ownership of seeds while restricting seed access to poor peasants and farmers.
RCEP will infringe on the rights of indigenous peoples and farmers to land and resources, their right to development and self-determination. Through its endorsement of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), RCEP will further deregulate destructive and extractive mining operations that harm the environment and the people who depend on it. It will also violate the people’s right to privacy through e-commerce and IPR provisions while at the same time allowing monopoly control of tech giants over telecommunications and the tech industry in general. Its investment and intellectual property chapters will undermine the people’s right to health by restricting public access to health services and access to cheap, life-saving medicines by extending patent rights and allowing big pharmaceutical companies to monopolize drug production. RCEP is set to further facilitate forced migration and labor export as it neglects addressing the root causes of unemployment without prioritizing the development of key national industries to produce home-grown quality jobs.
Like all other 21st century FTAs, RCEP remains negotiated behind closed doors with only corporate lawyers and lobbyists given full access to the text. This lack of transparency and the absence of genuine and meaningful participation of people’s organizations and civil society groups raises concerns on the legitimacy of the negotiation process.
The long-running people’s demands for living wages, land distribution, access to free, accessible medicines, public healthcare and education will never be addressed by neoliberal trade pacts such as the RCEP. In contrast, the dire conditions of the world’s poor and marginalized are all set to worsen if RCEP becomes enforced. In this light, we call on people’s movements and CSOs across Asia Pacific to mobilize against RCEP and fight for a pro-people trading system that responds to people’s needs, not to corporate elites.
People over Profit! No RCEP! Fight FTAs!