PSI affiliated unions worldwide are closely watching free trade agreements (FTAs) that have negative impacts on the provision of public services and access to quality healthcare.
More than 100 representatives of farmers groups, people’s movements and trade unions, including PSI affiliates, gathered in Bengaluru, in the State of Karnataka, India for the Forum against FTAs, to examine the impacts of a proposed mega Free Trade Agreement between 16 countries in the Asian region, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). They held a two-day workshop on “Understanding RCEP and Its Implications” on 2-3 April 2017.
The gathering raised concerns that, if signed, RCEP would allow foreign investors to sue governments, restrict policy space for governments, promote privatisation of essential services, threaten access to life-saving medicines, and put manufacturing jobs, rural livelihoods and seed sovereignty at risk. Further, the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause in the proposed agreement would undermine the Indian government's ability to protect citizens’ rights over corporate greed for profits.
"The presence of international healthcare companies is increasing in India, evident in the presence of companies like Malaysia’s Columbia Asia and the Singaporean IHH Healthcare Berhad. Foreign investment in the sector is also increasing and grew at 27 per cent annually in the period between 2010 and 2014. Close to 80 per cent of this was equity investment. In this context, entering into an agreement that will curtail the government’s ability to regulate the private healthcare sector and strengthen the so-called rights of investors will impact both workers and patients,” said V. Narasimhan, India country representative of PSI.
Even though negotiations for the agreement started more than four years ago, no text has been made public or has been shared and discussed with elected representatives, in a complete lack of democratic process. This is common practice with FTAs, as we have already see with the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which was negotiated in utmost secrecy. The 16 RCEP countries are the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and India. These countries account for 30% of global trade, and 50% of the world’s population. If it is signed, RCEP will create the world’s largest free trade area.
The PSI delegation at the meeting represented sectors such as municipalities, health, and insurance. As the Indian Government prepares to host the 19th round of RCEP negotiations in Hyderabad from 24-28 July, PSI will join other organisations in raising concerns with regard to the process of negotiations and the content of the agreement, which is biased towards the interest of large corporate companies. PSI is also part of a regional network of trade unions and civil society organisations from most RCEP countries that are monitoring the evolution of the negotiations.