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With global inequality at record levels, rising joblessness and the GDP to wage gap widening, neoliberal policies are facing a crisis of legitimacy. This includes mega Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) that continue to face widespread opposition, including from parliamentarians and the trade union movement. Despite this popular backlash and mounting evidence that the benefits of neoliberalism have accrued to the elite, the Asia Pacific region remains the hub of global trade. Unmet promises of equitable or inclusive growth notwithstanding, liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation are being aggressively pursued in the region, including through trade and investment treaties.
Since the early 1990’s, India has been pursuing both unilateral and multilateral liberalisation (through its membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO)). India is also a party to the negotiations for a 16 nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with 10 ASEAN countries, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and China. RCEP will cover more than half the world’s population and is expected to be concluded in 2018. Further, India has signed several FTAs including with ASEAN, Sri Lanka, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. FTA negotiations are ongoing with developed economies such as the European Union, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, over 80 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) that protects the rights of foreign companies have resulted in more than 20 litigation cases against the Indian state worth over US$ 12 billion.
These agreements seek to open the Indian economy to global trade and investment in agriculture, fisheries, industrial goods as well as key services such as health, finance, IT and education. The impacts of binding commitments in these areas include loss of policy space, shrinking government revenues and the undermining of federal decision making processes. Heightened competition results in job losses, contractualisation and a downward spiral of wages. Global Value Chains (GVCs) is now the dominant framework in global production processes. India’s integration into GVCs at lower levels of production has undermined sustainable industrialisation and possibilities of decent work.
In addition, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Investment rules provide monopoly profits to Transnational Corporations (TNCs). New arenas for profiteering include e-commerce and government procurement.
The free trade agenda is driven by TNCs and their lobbies and the push for ‘new generation’ FTAs represent the era of deep liberalisation. They will effectively close democratic policy spaces that are required by Governments to promote, respect, protect and fulfil human rights and provide quality public services and goods essential for a life in dignity.
It is imperative that the trade union movement plays a key role in challenging the free trade agenda. This workshop aims at discussing the impact of trade policy as well as specific agreements on key sectors in manufacturing and services from the perspective of the workers engaged in these sectors. In this initial workshop we will focus on the following sectors: Coal, Automobiles, Steel, Health, Water and Information Technology. Though sharing of experience and knowledge we aim to understand the full impacts of trade and investment policies and identify strategies to tackle the challenges they pose.