RCEP is Undemocratic and Anti-Development

May 11, 2017

by IBON Foundation

IBON Foundation Statement for the Stakeholders’ Meeting of the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC)18th Round of Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
Manila, May 10, 2017

Our countries should not be prevented from implementing real development policies. After over three decades of globalization we need to reclaim our economic sovereignty, not erode this even further.

IBON Foundation welcomes this stakeholder engagement. However, as with many other civil society organizations (CSOs), we find the general secrecy surrounding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the correspondingly very limited public participation to be very disappointing.

Our organizations are keen to analyze and discuss the terms of the RCEP for their far-reaching impact on tens of millions of Filipinos and hundreds of millions of others across RCEP negotiating countries. We have made many formal requests to various governments for copies of the negotiating text so that they could be analyzed and discussed among the workers, farmers, and other marginalized sectors. These requests are unheeded and we have had to rely on extremely sketchy information and on so-called leaked texts.

The consequent absence of meaningful participation is not consistent with the principles of democracy and inclusiveness that our governments often espouse.

Secondly, it is often argued that we have to enter free trade agreements (FTAs) or else be “left out” and lose out. This is a poor guide to economic policymaking. The measure of success is not of being able to avoid being “left out” but rather if economic development has been or is being achieved. That defeatist position has resulted in the Philippines steadily liberalizing and opening its markets over the last three decades. The negative Philippine experience is something that we invite our neighbours to learn from.

The Philippines is party to six (6) FTAs, one (1) bilateral FTA, various agreements under the multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO), and at least 31 bilateral investment treaties (BITs). These are aside from a whole range of market-oriented domestic laws and policies. These have made the country already more open than its neighbours in Southeast Asia in many aspects of foreign trade and investment.

These neoliberal policies have kept agriculture backward and caused it to decline to its smallest share of the economy in history. Filipino industry has been in decline for decades and is already a smaller share of the economy and employment than in the 1950s; some 20 firms have been closing on average every day since the 2000s. This has been compensated for by the bloating of a largely low value-added and low productivity service sector.

It has also resulted in the worst crisis of joblessness in the country’s history. There is unprecedented unemployment in the country especially if we also count all the discouraged workers who dropped out of the labour force from finding no work around. We estimate an unemployment rate of over 10% with over four (4) million unemployed Filipinos. On top of this is the greatly worsening quality of work – real wages have fallen to lower than they were fifteen years ago in 2001 and nearly two-thirds (63%) or 24.4 million of those employed are in non-regular, agency-hired, informal sector or unpaid family work. This severe domestic job scarcity has forced some 11-12 million overseas Filipino workers to find work abroad to support themselves or their families, suffering separation and a host of abuses.

All this while a few families have become even richer and a few large corporations have become even more profitable. This is very alarming. We don’t want more policies of inequality and underdevelopment.

Thirdly and overall, we then have serious reservations with RCEP which is a race to the bottom for countries to give the most favourable conditions for capital even at the expense of people and national development. Many of the specific areas of concern have already been well-articulated by colleagues from CSOs and people’s organizations. IBON has also submitted a position paper detailing the threats to Philippine agriculture (especially rice farmers) and industry, to people’s access to cheap generic medicines, and to farmers’ seeds.

We would like to add that Philippine economic policies are already shackled by profit-, market- and capital-driven trade deals and laws as it is. RCEP is an additional neoliberal shackle that is irrational and anti-development. RCEP is restrictive and for instance prohibits economic development policy measures listed as “performance requirements” or the use of trade barriers and other protections for domestic producers.

Yet such policies are exactly what RCEP negotiating countries China, Japan, South Korea, India and others have used to develop their industries to what they are today. Their positive experience with these is something that we should learn from. The double-standard for industrial policy and progress is already jarring — but the proposals for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) where corporations can bring our governments to secretive commercial courts for undertaking such measures in the national interest just make it worse.

Our countries should not be prevented from implementing real development policies. After over three decades of globalization we need to reclaim our economic sovereignty, not erode this even further.

For whom is RCEP? If it is so good for all, then the people should be brought in rather than kept in the dark. If the people are kept out, then this only underscores that RCEP is for the select few involved and not really for the people. ###