RCEP talks secretive, undemocratic – IBON

September 4, 2017

by IBON Foundation

Research group IBON expressed concern about the secretive and undemocratic proceedings of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) especially considering its apparent significant impact on the country’s economy, economic sovereignty and people’s welfare. The group said that it is the Duterte administration’s responsibility to ensure genuine transparency and public consultation to uphold the interests of the country and prioritize the Filipino people.

IBON raised these concerns as stakeholders participated in a dialogue regarding the new generation free trade agreement (FTA) with the Bureau of International Trade Relations (BITR) under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). An intersessional RCEP meeting is among the events during the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Ministers Meeting.

Since RCEP negotiations began in May 2013, very little has been revealed, mainly through three leaked chapters, about the sixteen-chapter agreement. Governments involved remain mum on the actual proceedings and outcomes of these rounds, said IBON. RCEP talks aim to further liberalize markets by institutionalizing rules on dispute settlement and investment protection, investments, intellectual property, and migration, among others. These rules are detrimental to underdeveloped countries like the Philippines.

IBON said that among the leaked contentious RCEP rules is the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision that rich countries like Japan and Australia have reportedly been pushing in the negotiations. Under this provision, foreign investors of RCEP member countries can sue the Philippine government at an international tribunal should it undertake measures they deem unfavorable to their commercial interests. This impinges on the country’s sovereignty to regulate investments and protect the public’s interests, aside from the burden of exorbitant litigation costs.

Another RCEP provision unfavorable to Filipinos is on intellectual property rights (IPR), said the group. This IPR provision will allow extended patents on important and life-saving medicines, resulting in even higher medicine costs. Filipino farmers will also be affected since the IPR provision translates into more expensive seeds and could lead to their bankruptcy. The Philippines, once RCEP is approved, will be required to join the 1991 Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention which privatizes seeds, and requires farmers to pay royalties on commercial seeds. Farmers will be prohibited from exchanging with each other commercial seeds saved from a harvest.

The RCEP prohibition on performance requirements for foreign investors that China is pushing also prevents the country from implementing policies to develop local industries and advance the public welfare. Yet these local content, technology transfer, and trade controls and requirements are essential policy tools to get real benefits from foreign investments and to build Filipino industry.

IBON said that meaningful public debate and engagement on these controversial provisions are hindered due to the secrecy of the RCEP negotiations. The group said that the Duterte administration should not sign onto an FTA that advances foreign investor and big business interests at the expense of genuine domestic development and public welfare. ###