From TPP to RCEP: People Always on the Losing End

The untimely demise of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) has definitely tipped the scales in favor of China and its free trade counterpart: the lesser known Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The past few months since the TPP’s apparent decline has seen RCEP negotiations on the fastrack. In fact, the 16th round of negotiations in Indonesia last Dec 7-9 signaled the conclusion of a second chapter on SMEs following a prior agreement on the first chapter on economic and technical cooperation. While trade ministers claim that RCEP is different (ergo better) than the TPP, a careful analysis of both agreements would reveal that the people’s interests were never in the agenda in the first place.

Not on the table? Then you’re on the menu

Like other 21st century free trade and investment agreements (FTAs), negotiations surrounding RCEP and TPP have been extremely secretive with no official negotiating texts ever released for public scrutiny. Opponents of these FTAs have relied solely on leaked texts that reveal why negotiators opt to keep negotiations out of the public eye – precisely because the public won’t like it.

This unavoidably raises the questions of why governments involved in these trade talks continue to negotiate on behalf of their people when the people’s interests were never their priority to begin with. Instead of allowing civil society and people’s organizations to look at the text and be in a better position to defend their rights, negotiators rely on an army of corporate lobbyists and lawyers allowing them to sit in the front row of negotiations and provide technical assistance to ‘scrub’ the text from loopholes and turnarounds that can potentially threaten investor profits. Naturally, and same as what leaked RCEP texts on investment and intellectual property rights reveal, agreements would revolve around corporate interests and how to protect them.

Beyond investment protection

The leaked RCEP text on investment shows virtually the same provisions enshrined in the TPP – both agreements will make use of the infamous Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). The ISDS is an international investment court run by corporations themselves that gives them space to sue governments for policies or regulations that threaten their profits. This puts RCEP governments, especially weaker member states, hostage to the whims of corporations as they can easily challenge national laws that aim to protect public welfare. Recent examples of cases filed through ISDS mechanisms show that corporations can challenge and even reverse government decisions to raise the national minimum wage or implement free land distribution.

In 2015, a corporate a corporate court ordered the government of Zimbabwe to return thousands of hectares of land it freely distributed to indigenous farmers back to the German landlord. In addition, the government was also ordered to pay $65M as compensation for the “loss of value” caused by the “illegal occupancy” of local peasants.

In Egypt, the French company Veolia filed a lawsuit against the government of Egypt for raising the national minimum wage and now asks $110M in compensation due to supposed ‘losses’ in profits. These examples show how provisions on investments are increasingly becoming less about protection, and more about attacks that aim to reverse the people’s gains for salary increases, and genuine agrarian reform.

The leaked chapter on intellectual property rights shows provisions that are even worse than the TPP. RCEP aims to extend monopoly rights of corporations over medicines, and seeds by prolonging patent exclusivity beyond existing standards. Once enforced, RCEP will inevitably increase prices for cheap, life-saving drugs while at the same time restricting farmers access to patented seeds.

Investment and militarization: Partners in crime

An hour away from the venue of the 16th round of RCEP talks in Tangerang, Banten Province, Indonesia is a small peasant community in Rumpin that has been struggling against land eviction for 10 years now. Aside from relying on rice and crop production, their soils are also rich in ‘red sand’ or Bauxite – a mineral which is commonly used for aluminum production.  Sinarmas, one of the biggest corporations in Indonesia, have reclaimed thousands of hectares of land over the years and used it for real estate ‘development’, and Bauxite extraction.

At the same time, a military base near the village continues to harass and intimidate community leaders in the aim of crushing resistance against their eviction from their lands. Existing FTAs such as the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) allows the use of so-called ‘investment defense forces’ in the form of military and paramilitary forces to protect investor interests especially in cases such as that in the unheard community of Rumpin. This is why we can’t talk about investments without talking about militarization. Once enforced, RCEP will only give further license to big corporations aided by military forces to exploit the rich and fertile lands of Rumpin and various other communities across Asia Pacific.

The fall of TPP and how to defeat RCEP

Defeating destructive and equally secretive mega trade deals such as the RCEP is a challenge to people’s organizations worldwide. But as much as this is true, this would not be the first time that mega-FTAs were defeated by the people themselves.

Some would say that the US elections and Donald Trump’s unprecedented victory led to the defeat of the TPP, but let’s not give Trump too much credit. The TPP was put to rest not because an individual like Trump simply decided not to support it. It was the strong people’s resistance and their ability to expose the trade deal for what it really is, and raise the issue as a matter of national interest so much so that campaigning politicians would not even dare to support it for fear of losing votes. Indeed, mass actions and strong people’s movements have always been the decisive force in bringing down destructive FTAs in the past. And this also holds true for RCEP.

Mark Moreno Pascual (@makoypascual) is coordinator of the People Over Profit Network – a global campaign movement of NGOs and social movements across the globe against FTAs and corporate plunder. He is also programme officer for the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) .

More articles by:

Mark Moreno Pascual (@makoypascual) currently works as Communications Officer for IBON International – a southern International NGO working for peoples rights and democracy. Before that, he spent some years doing research and advocacy with the progressive youth movement in the Philippines campaigning against tuition fee increases and for students rights and welfare.

February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”