Tag Archives: Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP)

Workers call on governments to Defend Public Services and Reject RCEP

We are trade union and civil society representatives from seven Asian countries who came together to discuss the impacts on labour rights and essential public services of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between 16 Asian nations. After two days of deliberations and reviewing the exciting experiences and the analysis available, we concluded that several proposals on the table of this far reaching economic deal have the potential to negatively impact decent work, labour rights, access to essential services such as water, electricity and healthcare, and add new challenges to the provision of quality public services in the region.

As the RCEP Ministerial will be held today 10 September in Manila, we publish the following statement of our position regarding these negotiations.

We are deeply concerned with the secrecy and lack of democratic process around these talks. Despite four years of negotiations texts have not been shared with elected representatives, and not been tabled for discussion in our respective tripartite mechanisms, let alone shared in the public domain for wide and informed consultation. While we acknowledge the ‘official stakeholder’ events that have taken place in the last three rounds of negotiations (Jakarta, Manila and Hyderabad) and in Manila a few days ago, these are far too limited as long as the text under discussion is kept secret.

We reject the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism proposed as part of this deal. ISDS is a flawed framework in which only one party – the investor – has the right to raise claims against another – the State. There is no justification for such a biased adjudication system in which States can never win, as even when they do not lose they bear the cost of litigation. The Philippines had to pay US$ 58 million in legal expenses despite the German transport company Fraport losing the case against the former. These arbitration tribunals only recognises rights, but no obligations for investors, and privilege the terms of trade and economic deals above our countries’ Constitution.

Further, the threat of challenge under this powerful international arbitration system impinges on the sovereignty of nations to formulate national laws and policies. We are particularly worried of the possibility that foreign investors challenge the outcomes of collective bargaining processes within countries, as we have seen in Egypt. The French company Veolia challenged the increase in national minimum wage brought about in Egypt by trade union demands in the wake of the Arab spring. Veolia demanded that the minimum wage increase be revised or that the company be compensated by the State for so called ‘loss in expected profits’. That a company feels emboldened enough to make such a claim speaks of the abusive use of this system that is currently taking place behind closed doors.

The current trade regime has already led to an intensification of precarious work and contractualisation of employment in the region. Permanent contracts, a key component of decent work as defined by the ILO is seen by business as a rigidity in employment regulations that needs to be done away with. RCEP’s provision of drastic cuts in import duties will increase the competition among manufacturing companies within the region. Experience tells us that most often the response from management is to resort to exploiting loopholes in labour laws or the lack of implementation of labour laws, to cut costs. This not only impacts the livelihoods of workers but also unionisation as precarious workers are less likely to join trade unions. This is a concern for our societies as a whole as it has been shown that lower unionisation leads to more income inequality within a society.

The provision of quality public services is also at risk. On the one hand government revenues are affected, and on the other, the cost of public services provision, especially for healthcare, stands to increase substantially. According to UNCTAD, import duties are key sources of government revenues for developing countries. In the region, this can be as high as around 17% of central government revenues in India. Drastic cuts in import duties will have a negative impact on the ability of the government to adequately finance services such as healthcare, water and sanitation, and education. In addition, the compensation claims from international arbitration are exorbitant and this comes from tax payer’s money. Indonesia had to pay US$ 337 million to Cemex in compensation. According to a leaked text, RCEP also demands decreased licensing fees, which are essential revenues for municipalities.

The cost of the provisions of essential services has to be balanced between infrastructure, human resources and cost of inputs. If there is a substantial increase in any of the three, the availability of resources for the other will be affected. For instance, medicines are essential inputs in the provision of healthcare that account for a substantial part of government’s health budgets. Provisions proposed under the Intellectual property rights text of RCEP would strengthen the monopoly of patent holders. Studies have shown that such changes would lead to higher costs of medicines (Kajal to add data).

Further, in the name of ensuring market access and equal treatment to foreign players, RCEP promotes the commodification of public goods, such as health, water and energy. These are services that are best provided by the public sector, require social accountability and have to be provided in the public’s interest. The private sector and the market are neither equipped, nor adequate to their provision and can at best play a subservient role under tight government regulation and guidance. Not only does RCEP promote the role of private players in the provision of these essential services, provisions in the services and investment chapters of RCEP stand to affect the ability of the government to regulate private providers. This is nothing but a recipe for disaster in which the worse affected will be the poor, women and marginalised communities across the region.

Finally, as shown in a recent report called “Reclaiming Public Services –how cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, the failure of privatisation experiments, especially but not limited to the energy and the water sector, have led to a wave of cases where cities and municipalities have brought back privatised entities into public hands. The report identifies more than 800 cases in 41 countries over the past 17 years. Provisions proposed under RCEP, such as Standstill, Ratchet and MFN-Forward, would entrench privatisation and pose a threat to the option to remunicipalise services.

Based on the above concerns, we demand that the RCEP negotiations be halted until the text is made public and discussed in parliament and in tripartite bodies in our respective countries. We reaffirm and support the call of ASEAN Parliamentarians for a thorough cost-benefit assessment of RCEP as well as a human rights impact assessment.

We demand that submissions from the trade union movement and other people’s organisations, based on a careful examination of the proposition on the table be taken as part of the negotiation process.

ASEAN governments have asserted the centrality of ASEAN in this process. We demand then that the guiding principles of ASEAN be at the core of the considerations of economic deals in the region. This implies that differences in development need to be given due recognition and form the base of expectations from different countries within and outside ASEAN. The notion of ASEAN centrality should also mean giving primacy to peoples rights and needs in these negotiations. Human rights such as the right to water, right to health, right to life and right to development come before economic expectations of investors. To ensure this, the trade union movement and other people’s organisations must have meaningful participation in the negotiations.

Until these demands are fulfilled, we reject the RCEP negotiation process and the outcome of it as a flawed and undemocratic process that does not stand to benefit workers, communities, and social development in our region.


Statement issued by:

NAGKAISA, PSI, Focus on the Global South and Transnational Institute


SENTRO and FDC lead a protest action in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila against RCEP. May 10, 2017.

Trade Justice Pilipinas a broad platform campaigning for just trade and investment policies expresses its opposition to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement or RCEP.

We urge the leaders of the ASEAN members’ states to defend the primacy of human rights, environmental integrity and peoples’ welfare against international economic agreements like RCEP that advance commercial interests and the corporate agenda, and impinge on the ability of the government to advance the greater public interest.

Furthermore, we call on the Philippine government, as Chair of ASEAN for 2017, to demonstrate leadership in raising the peoples’ concerns against RCEP during the 18th round of talks here in Manila.

In the Chairman’s Statement from the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, Member States led by the Philippines, reiterated the common vision to build a truly inclusive, people-centered, and people-oriented ASEAN community and stressed the centrality of ASEAN in the RCEP talks.

We assert that RCEP and other new generation free trade and investment agreements ran counter to the vision of a people-centered ASEAN. Contrary to the view expressed by ASEAN leaders that the RCEP talks have progressed considerably, the direction of the talks have in fact moved backwards with the agenda becoming more ambitious therefore demanding deeper commitments from parties. RCEP has become in many respects worse than the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement or TPP.

Our opposition to RCEP is anchored on the following concerns:

RCEP is a threat to public health and peoples’ access to medicines. The proposed agreement with TPP+ provisions on intellectual property rights will make it harder for poor people in the region to access affordable medicines particularly life-saving drugs, and for governments to advance public health policies for the benefit of the poor. The IPR chapter and many other provisions in the proposed agreement could undermine State policies on public health enshrined in Constitutions and national health laws like the Cheaper Medicines law in the Philippines.

RCEP will give corporations–many of which have annual revenues bigger than the GDPs of most countries in ASEAN, the right to sue governments over public policies and regulations in secret, ad-hoc corporate courts.

The investor state dispute settlement provision or ISDS, which has been highly criticized in the context of TPP negotiations, should be strongly rejected as well by ASEAN governments as an instrument that will weakening the right of State to regulate investments in the name of the greater public interest.

RCEP will straight-jacket governments, curtailing their power to use public policies to advance development agenda by putting in place prohibitions on performance requirement such as policies on domestic content and export restrictions, policies that favor employment of locals over foreign workers or even those that push for technology transfer.

Amidst the continuing backlash against globalization policies that have disenfranchised and marginalized the working class, the imperative is really to push back on RCEP and new generation trade and investment agreements that advance the corporate agenda over peoples’ interests.

Labor groups raise grave concerns over RCEP

Representatives from major trade unions in both the public and private sectors have raised serious concerns on the possible impacts of the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) which is currently being negotiated in Manila: According to their analysis, prices of medicines may increase, government revenue decrease and the government’s ability to regulate foreign investments, service providers and transnational corporations may be constrained.

The analysis of the labor groups are based on leaked draft texts of the RCEP as no official document has been made public throughout the four years of negotiations. Only negotiators and key business representatives had access to the official documents. Even Congress has been blindsided. This seriously constrains the democratic process.

RCEP is a mega free trade and investment agreement negotiated between 16 countries in the Asian region- the 10 ASEAN countries plus India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

The proposal to have an international private arbitration process that ignores national laws and the Constitution and where investors can make multi-billion claims against governments was another concern raised by the groups.

At a meeting attended by major labor centers like SENTRO and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), affiliates of global union federations such as PSI, IndustriALL and BWI, solidarity support organization like SASK, and the Trade Justice Campaign – Pilipinas, held on May 5 2017 in Quezon City, Dave Diwa, of National Labor Union (NLU) called RCEP a “danger zone that governments should avoid at all costs. “Vicente Camilon, Jr of the TUCP added that “RCEP might constraint our government’s power to regulate, undermine national sovereignty, and limit it ability to pursue national development objectives.” Jullian Roque of Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) further added that the deal could diminish public funds that should be devoted to basic social services.”

In contrast, the labor unions pointed out the corporate-bias of RCEP. Glen Pastorfide of the Philippine Government Employees Association (PGEA) said that RCEP could strengthen the power of corporations while weakening policies that seek to protect and conserve our natural resources and ecosystems.”

Alan Tanjusay of Associated Labor Unions (ALU) pointed out that “RCEP has no social dimension. Our government will be prevented from instituting policies and regulations beneficial to working people.”

Wilson Fortaleza of the Partido ng Manggagawa concluded that “RCEP is a global corporate agenda of regional oligarchs.”

“Clearly, the RCEP is as bad as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP),” Josua Mata, Secretary General of SENTRO, declared. “If Pres. Duterte rejected TPP, then he should, at the very least, be worried about RCEP as well,” he added.