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Public sector unions to oppose Asia Pacific mega trade deal RCEP

20 October 2016
On 12 October, the closing day of the Asia Pacific Regional Conference (APRECON) in Fukuoka, around 250 delegates representing more than 70 PSI affiliates from 18 countries resolved to intensify the struggle against the ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) under negotiation among 16 countries in the region.
This mega trade deal includes the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The resolution was tabled by the Indian and Malaysian National Coordination Committee (NCC) following a Regional Strategy meeting held in Kuala Lumpur in July this year. Introducing the resolution, Ikmal Azam Thanaraj, Vice President of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and Chairman of the Malaysia PSI-NCC stated, “the meeting in Kuala Lumpur gave us evidence of why, as representatives of public services workers and advocates of quality public services for all, we have to oppose this agreement tooth and nail.”

PSI affiliates have opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and there are consequent overlaps between the provisions included in the TPP and those expected to be included in RCEP.

Speaking at the APRECON, Kate Lappin, from Asia Pacific forum for Women, Law and Development (APWLD) stressed that due to wealth concentration governments are not accountable to people but indebted to corporates. “Free Trade Agreements are instruments to cement this power and lock in pro-corporate practices”, she stated.

The resolution reads PSI affiliates “are very concerned that RCEP is currently being fast-tracked and negotiated in secrecy. RCEP is expected to undermine local and national government decision-making powers and increase corporate access to public services, resulting in the privatization of critical public services.” Further, the resolution stresses that “it has been demonstrated that privatization of [...] publicly-provided services have the most negative impact on women, noting that six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women". APRECON was preceded by a Women Caucus that adopted the Fukuoka Statement on Quality Public Services for Equality.

Daniel Bertossa, PSI Trade and Tax officer stated “not only is RCEP expected to constrain government expenditures as revenues are lost due to the decrease in import duties, such agreements are used by companies to avoid paying their due share of taxes.

RCEP is expected to provide for unfair and secret arbitration tribunals (known as Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanisms, or ISDS), where corporations can make exorbitant claims against governments, but governments cannot make claims against corporations. The Government of the Philippines reportedly spent USD 58 million on legal services for an ISDS case, which could have been invested in strengthening public services.

Similarly, Vodafone launched an arbitration claim against the Government of India after it was ordered to pay tax on an $11bn deal when it acquired a controlling interest in a major Indian phone company. Vodafone had paid no capital gains tax on the deal through its use of offshore companies.

Bertossa concluded that “this is simply outrageous and PSI will ensure that such institutionalised robberies are made into a political issue”.

PSI joined the NO RCEP Regional Week of Action from 10 – 16 October 2016. More about the Regional Week of Action here.

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