Civil society groups ask ASEAN for RCEP human rights assessment as Filipino farmers say RCEP will undermine incomes

December 13, 2021: A coalition of regional and national civil society groups from the ten ASEAN countries  has asked the ASEAN secretariat to conduct a human rights assessment of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement due to come into force in January 2022.

ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam

In an open letter the groups say that the human rights impacts of the RCEP need to be assessed because the obligations under RCEP, which are binding for States, to open up more areas of the economy to international investment will “weaken the capacity of States to effectively respond to issues that communities could potentially face from corporate investments.”

The letter also argues that the agenda of ASEAN Regional Value Chains under the RCEP Agreement will further accelerate the ‘race to the bottom’ competition among ASEAN countries, encouraging countries to “offer the lowest production costs, utilizing cheap labour, tax relief, and access to natural resources.” This agenda will sacrifice peoples' rights, especially labor rights, and would have a broad impact on people's lives, and on extraction of natural resources.”

The signatories of the letter include Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ); Focus on The Global South; Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD); Trade Justice Pilipinas, Indonesia Aids Coalition (IAC); Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI); Social Action for Community and Development (SACD); Malaysian Food Security and Sovereignty Forum and other national groups from ASEAN countries.

Meanwhile a coalition of nearly a hundred agricultural Filipino organizations based across different parts of the country has made an appeal to the Senate to delay ratification of the RCEP, saying “the country will never gain from this [RCEP] and similar arrangements unless the government is able to establish, fund, and implement dedicated and sustained programs to boost the competitiveness and profitability of our farmers, fishers, traders, processors and exporters.” They argued that it is nonsensical to push for RCEP membership when the benefits from this agreement are “essentially theoretical or imagined”, whereas its dangers are real and proven by previous experience.