Putting more lives at risk as RCEP nego resumes amid COVID-19 pandemic

March 21, 2020

Participants at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) meeting in Da Nang (VNS Photo Công Thành)

Research group Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) urges governments to provide free mass testing and health services amid soaring cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) worldwide. The group also furthers that governments should prioritize medical attention for the poor as they are the most vulnerable to diseases. As there are governments in the Asia Pacific that already imposed lockdowns in metro cities, it is their responsibility to sufficiently provide for the needs of affected families. Authorities must impose A “No Layoffs” policy on the business sector to secure jobs of the workers during work suspension.

The APRN also warns that government lockdowns could be used to suppress the civil liberties of the people. Public health emergencies should not be used as a pretext to bolster authoritarianism. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte announced an “enhanced community quarantine” on the island of Luzon. Thousands of armed police and soldiers were deployed and checkpoints installed across Metro Manila.

On the other hand, the Network also commends doctors, nurses, and all health workers who are at the frontlines of containing the spread of the coronavirus. The State must guarantee their occupational safety by providing protective equipment, disinfectants, and regular checkups. They should be entitled to greater allowances and hazard pay.

In this global health pandemic, the APRN calls for solidarity of people’s organizations, CSOs and NGOs in the Region to exert all forms of engagement in asserting the rights and demands of the people especially in the most affected and vulnerable countries.

Railroading RCEP must be condemned

Meanwhile, at the heels of the 9th year of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks on March 10 in Da Nang, Vietnam. The research group also warns that the coronavirus pandemic might be used as a cover up to fast track the conclusion of the untransparent RCEP negotiations.
RCEP and other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) promote neoliberal economic policies of liberalization and privatization of public resources for corporate interest.

More than just the threats of COVID-19, market-oriented reform policies continue to devastate health services around the world. According to the World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO), half of the world still lacks access to substantial health services. Statistics show that 800 million people spend 10 percent of their budget expenses for health spending while 100 million people are unable to avail any health service at all.

Decades of neoliberalism made the situation worse in Third world countries. It pushes nations to completely abandon social services. Giant pharmaceutical companies and Multinational Companies (MNCs) gain super profits and prevent countries from regulating and producing generic life-saving medicines. Once the RCEP is passed, it will enable them to monopolize drug markets through Intellectual property rights policy impositions. These provisions propose to extend pharmaceutical patents and data exclusivity. Aside from patent extensions, MNCs are entitled to sue countries who are producing generic life-saving medicines under the Investor State Dispute Settlement provision in RCEP.

Resistance is the key

“The world has an opportunity to understand that health is not a commercial asset but a basic right,” said renowned Cuban doctor Luis Herrera, who discovered Interferon Alfa 2-B, one of the most successful medications against COVID-19.

As neoliberal policies continuously wreak havoc on health care systems and the global economy, the widening discontent of the masses shall only fuel the movement for the people’s right to health.

The APRN shall continue its support to peoples’ struggles against RCEP and other FTAs. We must strengthen solidarity and advance our aspirations for a trade system that respects sovereignty, guarantees mutual benefit, and promotes people’s long-term interests. ###