In time for another round of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) starting from February 27 to March 3 in Kobe, Japan, which is said to be crucial in spelling out the chances that the free trade agreement or FTA will be approved by the end of the year, we of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) reiterate our opposition to the RCEP.
As a neoliberal trade deal covering 3.5 billion or almost half of the world’s population with a gross domestic product of USD 22.5 trillion, RCEP will mean intensified attacks on the food sovereignty of its poorest member-countries. It will strengthen the monopoly control of the biggest agrocorporations within the 10 members of ASEAN, India, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and China and even in the world.
Despite attempts to make it appear that ASEAN countries or Japan are exercising leading roles in RCEP, it is no secret that the FTA is led by China and will stand to benefit the biggest capitalists of China more than any of RCEP member-countries.
The RCEP is not only the World Trade Organization (WTO), especially its Agreement on Agriculture, in another clothing. In seeking to advance the neoliberal trade and investment agenda behind the WTO, RCEP – like the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) – is bound to be worse than the WTO.
One of the pillars of the RCEP, and other mega-FTAs, is an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism which is already being used in existing trade deals to push back existing victories of national governments and people’s movements in fighting for food and economic sovereignty. The use of such mechanisms will surely be intensified under the RCEP against prospective advances in national policies in favor of farmers, small-scale food producers and the people. Commentators have every right to argue, on this basis, that RCEP means the death of democracy in its member-countries.
The lack of transparency in the text of the RCEP and the lack of consultation as to its content are merely symptoms of the thoroughly anti-democratic and pro-monopoly character of the FTA itself. The said FTA was created not by farmers and peoples, but by giant agrocorporations and giant corporations with the collusion of the Chinese government and the most powerful governments within the FTA.
Commentators are already using progress in the talks for the RCEP to push newly-installed US President Donald Trump to junk on his campaign promise to withdraw from the US-led TPPA, to which the China-led RCEP is widely perceived to be a counterweight.
- RCEP will affect not just its member countries. Because it is very big, and even bigger than the TPPA in purchasing power parity terms, it will strengthen the monopoly agrocorporations and other monopoly corporations not only within its sphere but also in the entire world.
- RCEP will strengthen the focus of poor countries on producing cash crops for export, instead of food for domestic consumption.
- RCEP will open up the lands of its poorest members to foreign ownership, for the operations of agricultural and mining corporations. It will make the struggle for genuine land reform even more difficult, by concentrating lands in the hands of big foreign corporations, by securing their hold through ISDS mechanisms, and by reversing prior efforts to redistribute lands to farmers.
- RCEP, which is said to be focused at present on reducing tariffs, will allow advanced capitalist countries to dump their heavily-subsidized agricultural produce to less developed countries, thereby destroying the livelihood of small farmers and domestic agriculture systems in the latter.
- RCEP will strengthen monopoly agrocorporations’ hold on the intellectual property rights over seeds, plants and traditional knowledge. This will mean the plunder or denationalization of biodiversity and traditional knowledge in many of the RCEP member-countries.
- RCEP will strengthen the dependence of farmers, indigenous peoples and other small-scale food producers on imported and commercial inputs.
- RCEP will mean attacks on labor rights across-the-board, and therefore attacks on the rights of food and agricultural workers, who already suffer from the worst working conditions in terms of low wages, contractual employment, and attacks on trade-union rights.
- RCEP will undermine the right of its member-countries to reject genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) that they have not approved and to subject those GMOs to a prior risk assessment. It will ensure the uninterrupted trade of GMOs to the benefit of major GMO producers and exporters.
- RCEP will surely worsen the militarism and militarization in the region to ensure the implementation of policies that are harmful to farmers, indigenous peoples, small-scale food producers and the people. To safeguard big investment interests, it allows for the deployment of so-called “investement defense forces.”
As a neoliberal trade deal that seeks to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of big corporations, RCEP will also be harmful to developing countries’ struggle for industrialization, access to cheaper medicines, quality social services, and protection of the environment.
Signing into RCEP will rollback the victories of the farmers and peoples of various countries in fighting for food sovereignty and against thoroughgoing liberalization, privatization, deregulation and denationalization of economies. It will mean signing on to a worse version of the WTO.
Leaders of the RCEP aim to seal the agreement this 2017. We are calling on all organizations of farmers, indigenous peoples and small-scale food producers as well as their supporters including NGOs, and all food sovereignty activists around the world, to uphold the said constituencies’ interests and fight RCEP.
Now, more than ever, the farmers, indigenous peoples and small-scale food producers of the world are called upon to intensify our fight: Fight for food sovereignty! Fight for land, food and genuine development! Oppose the RCEP and other FTAs!