Manila Bulletin

Civil so­ci­ety groups de­mand that DTI with­draw from FTA ne­go­ti­a­tions

- By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT

Civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions (CSOS) yes­ter­day marched in front of the Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try (DTI) to de­mand the coun­try’s with­drawal and to stop hold­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions for mega and bi­lat­eral free trade deals say­ing the gov­ern­ment should pri­or­i­tize peo­ple’s rights first in­stead of big prof­its for big busi­ness.

Around 100 red-clad mem­bers of the ASEAN Civil So­ci­ety Con­fer­ence/ASEAN Peo­ples’ Fo­rum 2017 (ACSC/APF 2017) Philip­pines Na­tional Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee (NOC), marched to the DTI on Valen­tine’s Day to de­liver the Philip­pine CSOs’ po­si­tion and de­mands on the ASEAN Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity (AEC). The NOC, led by its co-con­ven­ers Free­dom from Debt Coali­tion (FDC) and PhilWomen on ASEAN, asked that its state­ment be tack­led also at the 31stmeet­ing of the High Level Task Force on ASEAN Eco­nomic In­te­gra­tion (HLTF-EI) the fol­low­ing day. A num­ber of the groups that have been en­gag­ing DTI on trade and in­vest­ment is­sues and free trade agree­ment (FTA) ne­go­ti­a­tions are also part of the ACSC/ APF 2017 NOC.

The CSOs’ state­ment was handed over to the Philip­pine rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the HLTF-EI, DTI Un­der­sec­re­tary and of­fi­cial-in-charge of trade poli­cies Ce­ferino Rodolfo who later in­vited the CSOs to a di­a­logue in a big meet­ing room at the Board of In­vest­ments.

Dur­ing the 2-hour di­a­logue with Rodolfo, the Philip­pine NOC tack­led a wide range of is­sues and pressed that these ur­gent is­sues will be in­te­grated in the dis­cus­sions of the HLTF-EI.

“The gov­ern­ment should re­view all ex­ist­ing trade and in­vest­ment agree­ments, and if nec­es­sary ter­mi­nate those that do not serve the peo­ples’ in­ter­ests,” voiced Joseph Pu­rug­ganan, Co­or­di­na­tor of Fo­cus on the Global South – Philip­pines. He ex­plained that the rise of megare­gional trade deals such as the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) and bi­lat­eral new gen­er­a­tion FTAs is also a grow­ing cause for con­cern ow­ing to its im­pend­ing im­pacts – on the coun­try’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor, la­bor rights in­clud­ing those of mi­grant work­ers, women, marginal­ized sec­tors, ac­cess to cheap and life-sav­ing medicines, and on na­tional sovereignt­y. AEC’s labour mo­bil­ity should ben­e­fit all work­ers in­clud­ing mi­grant work­ers and not only highly skilled pro­fes­sion­als.

“The ASEAN Re­gional In­te­gra­tion is feared to fail lest it takes into ac­count the sys­temic and in­ter­sec­tional di­men­sion of dis­crim­i­na­tion, op­pres­sion and ex­clu­sion,” said Chang Jor­dan, Pro­gram Di­rec­tor of Women’s Le­gal Bureau. To il­lus­trate her point, Jor­dan who also rep­re­sents PhilWomen on ASEAN raised that the AEC’s fo­cus on cre­at­ing mar­ket con­di­tions does not trans­late to women’s equal op­por­tu­nity in eco­nomic and la­bor mar­kets, as it re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge dif­fer­ences re­sult­ing from gen­der stereo­typ­ing in la­bor roles — the neg­a­tive ef­fects are es­pe­cially in­ten­si­fied in poorer de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

The state­ment un­der­scored, among oth­ers, the fol­low­ing is­sues: in­creas­ing in­equal­i­ties and the con­tin­u­ing dom­i­nance of cor­po­rate power; in­for­mal­iza­tion of the la­bor mar­ket and in­creas­ing migration con­cerns; en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and the cli­mate cri­sis, peace and hu­man se­cu­rity; hu­man rights and ac­cess to jus­tice; and life with dig­nity.

On the oc­ca­sion of ASEAN’s 50th year, the groups said it is high time for our gov­ern­ment to in­te­grate the peo­ple’s vi­sion in the re­gional in­te­gra­tion.

Un­der the AEC blueprint, ASEAN economies are ex­pected to be­come a sin­gle pro­duc­tion and mar­ket base that seeks to fa­cil­i­tate the free flow of goods and skilled la­bor. Mark Pas­cual, Pro­gram Of­fi­cer of Asia Pa­cific Re­search Net­work, high­lighted that the cur­rent thrust of the AEC and the wider ASEAN in­te­gra­tion process it­self is in­flu­enced by ne­olib­eral in­ter­ests af­firmed by free trade agree­ments wherein big busi­nesses and transna­tional cor­po­ra­tions re­main its main driv­ers and ben­e­fi­cia­ries, thus mar­kets and prof­its are pri­or­i­tized over the needs and rights of the peo­ple.

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