The world economy has been living off stimulus package long since the global financial crisis in 2008. Since then, the people of the world have been experiencing a worsening crisis due to joblessness, high prices, and continuing land grabs. Even economic giants such as the US, China, and Russia are ticking time bombs of recession waiting to happen. To abate the intensity of the looming crisis, these countries are desperately competing over the global market through bilateral, regional and mega trade deals.
When the global pandemic COVID 19 emerged at the start of year, militarized lockdowns had failed to contain the spread of the virus worldwide affecting every aspect of the global economy.
The disruption of the supply-chain of the manufacturing industry and decreased work of the service sector have led to millions of job loss worldwide and resulted in far-reaching effects and consequences that could potentially lead to the worst recession in history. Poor countries with high COVID 19 cases, the turf for transnational and multinational companies, have been the most vulnerable and are suffering the most from the health and economic crisis.
In the case of Bangladesh for instance, there are 388, 569 COVID 19 cases and rising, reports indicate that at least 1 million garments workers lost their jobs during the first month of quarantine. Workers from the second largest clothing manufacturing in the world who are already living below poverty line, are being sent without pay. Garment workers in Bangladesh receive a measly US$ 97 a month, only a dollar more of the minimum wage of $96 a month. H&M, Target, JCPenney, Kohl’s, and Walmart are some of the fashion brands that are outsourcing Bangladeshi factories. This is a common situation in poor countries especially those that are hemmed in by unfair trade deals.
Eager to dominate, China had expedited the clandestine process of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that was previously signed during the 37th ASEAN Summit. RCEP like previous trade deals is widely criticized due to its projected adverse impacts.
International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), and USAID are continuing to profit from loans purportedly for COVID response. China has been pushing its massive infrastructure development project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to consolidate its influence across the South by dangling loans to countries under its health silk road. These loans, however, are subject to conditionalities like further liberalization and deregulation of local economies. These conditionalities are based on the neoliberal development finance framework as imposed by FTAs.
In line with the general objective to build capacities of CSOs and POs to conduct research on the theme, Trade and Development as well as to increase the understanding on the impacts of global and regional policies at the national level, APRN is conducting its annual Research Conference, focusing on the Free Trade Agreements in the Region in time of the Pandemic.