Civil society groups demand that DTI withdraw from FTA negotiations
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.