Activists, CSOs bolster call to reject RCEP in Bali negotiations

February 25, 2019

Carrying placards calling for the rejection of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), activists managed to slip past the tight security of Nusa Dua Complex in Bali, Indonesia to conduct a protest in front of the Bali International Convention Center where the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee is holding its 25th negotiation round.

Joining the protest were members of Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN/National Students’ Front), Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua (Papuan Student Alliance), Serikat Perempuan Indonesia (SERUNI/Indonesian Women’s Union), and People Over Profit – Indonesia.

Inside the convention center representatives of people’s organizations and civil society organizations are delivering their statements in a Stakeholder Dialogue with trade negotiators. The delegates echoed the key messages on issues discussed during the CSO forum held prior to the meeting.

Retno Dewi representing Indonesian women’s group SERUNI minced no words in criticizing the conduct of negotiations for the trade pact. “You have kept us blind; you have kept the details of this deal a secret. For that reason alone, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or RCEP deserves an unequivocal rejection from women, and all the other sectors here present now,” Dewi said.

Andrew Zarate of APRN slammed the evident corporate interests behind the new trade deal. According to Zarate “signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will further seal the control of ASEAN economies by the few powerful corporate elites that influenced most of RCEP’s chapters.”

“RCEP will galvanize labor contractualization schemes, push down wages, and erode labor standards won by the workers themselves. RCEP will destroy what’s left of our local industries resulting to forced migration and labor export.

“In this same chapter, corporations would weild the power to sue our governments in investor-state dispute settlement tribunals, question laws that promote people’s welfare, and when they win, reap billions from people’s taxes,” he added.

Kartini Samon of GRAIN aired her group’s opposition to RCEP’s intellectual property (IP) provisions that would target seeds and other agricultural products. According to Samon RCEP’s IP chapters would only “benefit the seed industry and systematically eliminate local seeds and create dependence of farmers on the seed industry, and create indebtedness.”

The Indonesia AIDS Coalition raised their concern on the proposed extension of patents for life-saving medicines which would inevitably cut or immensely delay the supply of affordable generic medicines.

Another big concern are the provisions on e-commerce which would consolidate the monopoly of tech giants over digital technologies, infrastructure, services, and data. Leaked text of RCEP’s e-commerce provisions reveal that it closely resembles those in the recently signed Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP) whose provisions generally reflected the demands of U.S. digital monopolies.

Proposals would allow service suppliers to transfer and process data offshore which include personal and commercial information, this would disarm governments from policing the use, sale and abuse of those data. Furthermore, governments cannot require service providers to use or locate their computing facilities within the client country, discouraging governments to invest in their country’s local digital infrastructure. Restrictions against giving preferences to local firms that develop content using local knowledge and cultural content are also being negotiated.

As governments race to finish negotiations before the year ends, people’s organizations and civil society groups across the region commit to sustain their vigilance and remain at the forefront of opposing the trade deal.

In a students’ forum on RCEP held in Bali’s Udayana University, youth leader Thofu Ajaa of FMN, pledged to conduct more activities to raise the public’s awareness on RCEP and other similar neoliberal trade agreements and economic policies. “Building a popular movement must start from exposing the adverse impacts of neoliberal economic policies on people’s lives and livelihood. The youth must help in all efforts to expose pro-corporate and anti-people trade deals and policies, and to mobilize thousands to oppose them,” said Ajaa.

Watch SERUNI’s Intervention at the RCEP TNC Stakeholder Meeting below:

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Intervention of Retno Dewi (SERUNI)

Intervention of Retno Dewi (SERUNI)