CSOs dissect the ASEAN Economic Community at the ASEAN People’s Forum

April 30, 2015

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Regional organizations Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), and Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) teamed up to organize the workshop Unpacking the ASEAN Economic Community: Exposing the Implications and Building Alternatives to the Neoliberal Economic Integration. The workshop was conducted on April 24 at the ASEAN Peoples Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The objectives of the workshop were to understand the history and drivers pushing for the regional economic integration of the ASEAN, understand the critical components of the AEC and raise awareness on its implications on the ASEAN peoples and to discuss proposals on alternatives to the AEC that espouse the principles of development justice.

Antonio “Tony” Tujan, Jr of IBON International walked the participants through the history and geopolitical context of the ASEAN, from its Cold War roots, to the triumph of neoliberalism that heightened the exploitation of natural resources and labor of the region’s peoples. According to Tony, at the heart of the current regional economic integration is the desire of all ASEAN countries to increase investments by transnational corporations (TNCs), which will intensify resource grabs.

Ma.Cristina “Tinay” Palabay of human rights group Karapatan shared further details on how the ASEAN Economic Community’s liberalization blueprint will give corporations more power than ever to control the region’s resources at the expense of the poor, marginalized communities. According to Tinay, the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) contains investor protection measures, including the investor-state dispute settlement which allows foreign corporations and investors to sue governments over policies/laws that hurt their profits, even if these policies/laws protect people’s rights and welfare.

While agreements are being signed to promote the integration, the ASEAN people know so little about it. In fact, a survey commissioned by the ASEAN secretariat in 2013 found out that 76 percent still “lack a basic understanding” of what ASEAN is and what it is striving to do. Eni Lestari from the International Migrants Alliance discussed how little the migrant workers and grassroots people know about the ASEAN economic integration. According to Eni, the AEC will fuel more forced migration because of resource grabs in sending countries.

Kate Lappin of APWLD and Marjorie “Marj” Pamintuan of APRN talked about what would be alternatives to the current neoliberal economic model that the ASEAN is currently following. Kate outlined the development justice framework which would be needed to deliver an just regional integration. The five foundational shifts of development justice are: redistributive justice, economic justice, gender and social justice, environmental justice, and accountability to peoples. Meanwhile, Marj expounded on the principles of the Bandung Asia-Africa Conference and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America (ALBA), which both present alternative frameworks for regional integration and cooperation.

Participants and discussants shared among each other their diverse concerns on AEC and whether CSOs can really build an alternative regional integration. It was pointed out that ALBA was born out of peoples’ struggles to install responsive, accountable governments, and also for a regional integration that works for peoples’ rights and welfare.

More than 1400 delegates from an estimated 1000 civil society organizations gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the ASEAN People’s Forum from 21-24 April, 2015. ###