Labour representatives from trade unions from India, Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia, and Cambodia joined other public interest groups during the 5-day long People's Response to RCEP and Free Trade in Asia Pacific, from 20-24 July, to raise deep concerned on the content and process of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations - which had its 23rd round of negotiations concluded on 27 July after 10 days of closed door talks in Bangkok.
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Speaking at the Consultation organised by the government of Thailand during the negotiating round, Clare Middlemass from Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) in Australia made clear that the proposal for an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in which companies can sue governments in secret arbitration tribunals is unacceptable to labour.
“ISDS undermines the constitution, limits the regulatory function of the state to protect the public interest. Many countries here have raised substantial issues with ISDS at UNCITRAL. This proposal needs to be off the table. The Free Trade Agenda is aimed at further entrenching corporate power at the expense of workers and our communities. We need to change the rules on trade,” she concluded. CPSU is a member of Public Services International.
Talking of the lack of democratic process and transparency in the negotiations, Young-Bae Chang from Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers' Unions (KPTU) said that defending and sticking to secrecy in the name of an effective negotiation strategy is actually threatening the political legitimacy of the whole RCEP processes.
"RCEP and other trade agreements are a political issue of grave concern to working men and women like us. In Korea, we know from our recent experience that when the government is keeping something secret, there are terrible consequences for the public.” A report released in Bangkok shows that the RCEP trade talks fail the transparency and public participation test. “Until that happens, RCEP talks are turned into transparent and participatory trade-policy making, we believe there should be a moratorium to the RCEP negotiations,” he concluded.
Representing Global Union Federation IndustriALL, G Manicandan warned against the clauses such as ratchet and standstill that do not allow governments to re-regulate sectors.
“Trade union representatives are concerned that provisions on the table will negatively impact employment, by leading to loss of jobs as well as removing key industrial policy tools for future job creation. They will also lead to further contractualisation and down pressure on wages due to increased competition within the region. It is not acceptable to write off industrial policy,” he explained.
Dinda Nuuranisa Yuura, from Solidaritas Perempuan explained how women workers stand to be worse affected.
“Women are lowest paid, and countries in the region see some of the highest gender wage gap. The provisions of the investment chapter can prevent affirmative action, making it impossible to close this gap. The lack of public services and privatisation of these services impacts women's burden of work. RCEP will weaken public services on due to lesser government revenues and facilitated entry of foreign private providers, in addition to curtailing the government ability to regulate in the public interest. RCEP will also make it difficult to reverse privatisation even when they fail to serve the public interest. We are deeply concerned that RCEP and other trade agreements not based on the interests of women. This might be about cost and benefits for you, for us its about life and death”, she asserted.
PSI was represented by V Narasimhan, from All India National Life Insurance Employees Federation (AINLIEF) in India, Clare Middlemas, from CPSU in Australia, Young-Bae Chang, from KPTU, Noor Hasliza Bt. Zainal from AUEGCAS Malaysia, Kate Lappin, PSI Regional Secretary for Asia Pacific, and Susana Barria, PSI Asia Pacific Trade Justice Campaigner.
For further information contact: Susana Barria, email@example.com, +919958812915