Beyond investment protection: group warns of intensified corporate attacks vs people’s rights as ASEAN leaders meet in PH

MANILA—As leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gather in Manila, Philippines for the 30th ASEAN summit and concurrently the 18th round of RCEP negotiations this April-May, the People Over Profit network together with local civil society organizations in the Philippines warn of intensifying corporate attacks on people’s rights and join calls for an independent, sovereign and peaceful Southeast Asian region.

“ASEAN’s neoliberal thrust has gone beyond mere protection of investor rights, it has increasingly turned into deliberate attacks on people’s rights,” said People Over Profit spokesperson and Secretary General of the Asian Peasant Coalition Harry Sandy Ame in response to ASEAN’s continuing push for regional economic integration. “We expect no less from ASEAN this year than unbridled corporate investments that often threaten the lives, lands and livelihoods of peoples in the region,” he added.

Under ASEAN’s economic integration objectives, a new set of investment protection measures are being negotiated through new generation free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Included in the RCEP investment chapter and other FTAs being negotiated by ASEAN are provisions on the notorious Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – a corporate tribunal that allows investors to sue states over actions detrimental to expected future profits.

Currently, there are 696 known ISDS cases filed by corporations against 107 countries worldwide and the numbers are rapidly increasing. Over 80 percent of all claims have been filed by developed country investors the most prominent of which are transnational corporations from the US and EU. There have been 21 cases filed against ASEAN member states including 6 against Indonesia, 4 each against the Philippines and Vietnam, 3 against Malaysia, 2 against Lao PDR and 1 each against Thailand and Myanmar amounting to a total of $9.7 billion in taxpayer’s money.

Amount demanded by corporations based on accumulated lawsuits as of 2015 (in USD)
Vietnam (4 cases) $4 billion
Indonesia (6 cases) $2.4 billion
Lao PDR (2 cases) $2 billion
Philippines (4 cases) $1 billion
Thailand (1 case) $162.9 million
Myanmar (1 case) $6.3 million
Malaysia (3 cases) $5.3 million

“This clearly illustrates how these same corporations who have been responsible for massive land grabbing, unemployment and environmental destruction in the region are ironically being compensated for their attacks against people’s rights. ASEAN favors rich countries and their corporations, not the people,” Ame reiterated.

“With the ASEAN economic integration efforts now at full pace, we find no comfort in knowing that ASEAN is set to aggravate existing inequalities between and within member states,” he added.

The People Over Profit network is set to join people’s organizations in the Philippines and across the region under the People’s Campaign for an Independent, Sovereign and Peaceful Southeast Asia (SEA People’s Campaign) in mobilizations and build-up activities in the run up to the 18th Round of RCEP Negotiations this May towards the East Asia Summit on November. ###

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