Statement of concern regarding the proposed EU-ASEAN free trade negotiations

Bangkok, 8 February 2007

 

The undersigned civil society movements and organisations from ASEAN and Europe wish to express their strong concerns about the proposed EU-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) slated to be concluded within the next two years.

 

The decision to launch these trade negotiations has occurred without prior meaningful public consultation, either with elected representatives or civil society in any of the countries concerned. This constitutes a violation of basic principles of democracy and human rights, that the European Union and ASEAN purport to support.

 

Any agreement as far-reaching in its consequences and as broad in scope as the proposed EU-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement should involve at the very least a wide-ranging and on-going consultation process, in addition to full disclosure of all texts being considered. A detailed, comprehensive and qualitative sustainability impact assesment (SIA) should always be carried out prior to launching any negotiations.

 

In particular since the experience with existing EU FTAs shows that significant negative outcomes have occurred, while many of the promised benefits have failed to materialise. For example, assessments of the EU-Mexico Global Agreement show a doubling of Mexico’s trade deficit with the EU since the FTA came into force. And contrary to the predicted benefits to employment and labour conditions, since the signing of the EU-Mexico Agreement unemployment has risen and workers are increasingly facing precarious labour conditions and temporary employment contracts, below-standard wages and no social security. While foreign investments have increased, this has resulted mainly in foreign takeovers of domestic industries, without generating additional employment or increases in remuneration.

 

An independent SIA, commisioned by the European Commission for the Euro-Mediterranean FTA (EMFTA), concluded that the EMFTA would have adverse effects on hunger, education, poverty and health. This SIA omitted intellectual property, investment and government procurement provisions as part of the study: issues which normally are considered to have far-reaching consequences for people and developing countries such as ASEAN.

The EU now appears to be pushing ahead with similar free trade agreements in other regions regardless.

 

In this light, the undersigned civil society organisations are highly concerned that:
 

  • the EU appears to be promoting anti-development policies with its push to incorporate the controversial Singapore issues already rejected at the WTO by various ASEAN members;

  • the vast socio-economic disparities in ASEAN and the least-developed status of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar – one of whom is not even a WTO member -, are not being taken into account as the EU is demanding full reciprocity without meaningful special and differential treatment beyond mere transition periods –  which even the WTO allows;

  • the liberalisation of services at a WTO-plus level, given the dominance of EU services companies, will tend to outcompete ASEAN services providers;

  • the accompanying limitations on the ability of national governments to regulate in the public interest will jeopardise access to essential services, and have far-reaching implications for the poor and rural populations in both regions. Experiences with previous FTAs and our reading of EU policy heightens our concern that services negotiations will include essential services and public utilities like water, health, education, public transport, culture, etc.;

  • any EU-ASEAN FTA will leave the ASEAN countries worse off than the current GSP treatment, while demanding from these asymmetrical partners extensive WTO-plus liberalisation without allowing adequate special safeguard measures;

  • EU requirements that ASEAN substantially lower its tariffs will result in a significant loss of revenue to developing countries which can not easily raise similar funds from other taxation sources;

  • the EU’s high priority on access to raw materials as expressed in its key document setting out the future direction of its trade policy – ‘Global Europe: Competing in the World’ – will seriously undermine ASEAN countries’ capacity to maintain sovereignty over their natural resources, including restrictions on exports, investment and intellectual property rights;

  • the EU will push for market access commitments with regard to government procurement, which will encroach on vital policy space needed for equitable wealth redistribution and social coherence necessary for nation-building;

  • intellectual property protection is already reducing access to affordable medicine and education in developing countries; and that the EU will require ASEAN countries to join additional intellectual property treaties, which will further increase the level of intellectual property protection – to the detriment of the right to health, education and other basic human rights.

Given the above, the undersigned civil society groups from both the EU and ASEAN demand that people’s needs and rights should be at the heart of any economic development including trade arrangements.  There should be political accountability on all economic decision-making processes, including civil society participating as a full stakeholder, in order to arrive at equitable and sustainable development and trade systems.

 

The undersigned,

 

11.11.11, Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement

Agribusiness Accountability Initiative-Asia

Alliance for Progressive Labor

AsiaDHRRA

Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum

Asia Pacific Network on Food Sovereignty

Asian Farmers Association

ATTAC-Netherlands

Centre for Labour Information, Service and Training

Drug Study Group/FTA Watch

Focus on the Global South

Freedom from Debt Coalition

FTA Watch Thailand

GATS Platform-Netherlands

GCAP Senca

Global Network-Asia

Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc.

Institute for Popular Democracy

International Gender and Trade Network

International South Group Network Asia

Jubilee South-Asia Pacific Movement for Debt and Development

Monitoring Sustainability of GlobalizatioN-Malaysia

Resource Center for People’s Development

RRAFA

Solidarity Center

Southeast Asian Committee for Advocacy

Sustainability Watch

ThaiDHRRA

Third World Network

Transnational Institute

Via Campesina

X-Y Solidarity Fund

 

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2 thoughts on “Statement of concern regarding the proposed EU-ASEAN free trade negotiations

  1. As Professor [of Corporate Strategy and International Business] Linda Lim, Director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, puts it in her Foreword to
    Philip Kotler, Hermawan Kartajaya, and Hooi Den Huan,
    “Think ASEAN – Rethinking toward ASEAN Community 2015”, McGrawHill, 2007,
    private actions can and should initiate a process of market-led regional integration that is likely to be not just quicker, but also more efficient [than a government-initiated process], as a result.

    After attending the ASEAN Business and Investment Seminar (BIS) in Cebu – Philippines in December 2006 and reading the book I just quoted,
    I wonder whether the ASEAN market is not primarily a market which is going to be “exploited” not by SMEs (Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises), but only by big businesses (Multi-National Corporations – MNCs) which are already operating internationally.

    Let me first say this: I am a firm believer in Freedom (and Truth) and thus in the freedom of contract. Nobody can thus be prevented from concluding a contract whereby the partners set up a corporation which eventually becomes a MNC.

    I have no problems with private corporations where the partners’ liability does not disappear.

    The problem is however that whereas I cannot give legal personality to my dog or my car, the granting of the privilege of legal personality to the PUBLIC corporation at present results in the partners that make up the corporation not being fully liable for the actions of their corporate tool
    (Professor Frank van Dun, “The Modern Business Corporation versus the Free Market?”, http://users.ugent.be/~frvandun/Texts/Articles/Corporation versus Market.pdf )

    When I see that the quoted book refers several times to a corporation with such ASEAN roots as McDonald’s Hamburger Restaurant, I have my deepest doubts as to the real intentions of some of the promoters of ASEAN.

    ASEAN wants to integrate the economies of its member states and wants to maintain ASEAN in the centre stage, making the ASEAN concept real in the minds of people, said His Excellency Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of ASEAN, in His Excellency’s December 09, 2006 address to the ASEAN BIS Seminar in Cebu – Philippines.

    Will giving MNCs more leeway to “exploit” the ASEAN market make the ASEAN concept real in the minds of people? Will that maintain ASEAN in the centre stage? I don’t think so.

    It is humbly submitted that having an ASEAN currency in one’s wallet would really make the ASEAN concept real in the minds of people and would maintain ASEAN in the centre stage.

    I therefore wonder whether, as I said in the paper “A Currency for the ASEAN market – Freegold”, which I made available to the participants at the ASEAN BIS seminar in Cebu – Philippines in December 2006, it would not be time to realise that these objectives can only be achieved if ASEAN does not tolerate currencies’ exchange rates dominating trade but adopts the opposite policy of allowing ASEAN to consolidate (store) its produced wealth in Freegold.

    Do we cling to the dollar-IFMS (International Financial and Monetary System) or do we opt for ASEAN Freegold, for the ASEAN gold-euro?

    Nothing prevents ASEAN from copying what the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) is doing and keep gold (the Mona Lisa) in the strong rooms (the Louvres) of its central banks and marking it to market price on a quarterly basis. Every individual in an ASEAN nation would then be free to copy the concept of Freegold. By the same token, the ASEAN concept will have been made real in the minds of people and ASEAN will have been maintained in the centre stage. How else could ASEAN possibly integrate the economies of its member states?

    Ivo Cerckel de Siquijor

    REAL POSTSCRIPTA

    1.
    “We should be aware that the currently very benign financial scenario could lead to complacent attitudes in some parts of the financial sector,” [Mr {Rodrigo de] Rato [managing director of the International Monetary Fund] said. “This is a possible threat.”
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ft/20070211/bs_ft/fto021120071135464206

    2.
    Here’s Sunday’s London Observer
    PUTIN HITS AT US FOR TRIGGERING ARMS RACE
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2010462,00.html
    Russian leader launches an assault on America in a sign of growing Kremlin self-confidence
    SNIP
    In a blistering assault that reflected the Kremlin chief’s self-confidence and conviction that he has restored Russia’s international clout after years of decline, Putin told a security conference in Munich that America was destroying the international system and seeking to eliminate nuclear deterrence through the uncontained use of its power. ‘One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way,’ he told dozens of Western ministers and policy-makers including the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, and a likely Republican presidential contender, Senator John McCain.
    ‘This is very dangerous. Nobody feels secure any more because nobody can hide behind international law,’ Putin said. ‘This is nourishing an arms race with countries seeking to obtain nuclear weapons… We’re witnessing the untrammelled use of the military in international affairs… Why is it necessary to bomb and to shoot at every opportunity?’

    Germany’s Der Spiegel seems to be saying that Putin said that Russia is not frightened by the monopolar or unipopolar (“mono”, or something like that, in Greek means “one” like “unus” in Latin) dominance of the US of A.

    http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,465634,00.html
    US-Weltherrschaft, überlegene russische Waffen – mit seiner aggressiven Rhetorik schreckte Putin seine Zuhörer in München. Die fragten sich anschließend: Warum macht Russlands Präsident das? Aus Sorge um den Weltfrieden? Aus Frust über den eigenen Bedeutungsverlust?
    +
    Putin: “MONOPOLARE WELTHERRSCHAFT”
    {…] Den USA unterstellte er das Streben zu “monopolarer Weltherrschaft
    +
    Wenn Putin die Welt tatsächlich als unipolar erlebt, dann wollte er wohl heute darauf aufmerksam machen, dass sich sein Russland dem nicht beugen will.

    Whereas The Observer said that Russia’s self-confidence is growing,
    Der Spiegel seems to be concluding by saying that if Putin actually experiences that the US of A wants the world the remain unipolar (the US of A ruling the world without any counterweight),
    Putin also wants to draw our attention to the fact that Russia will not submit to it.
    The article starts by asking whether Putin is worried about world peace.

    Is this a reaction to the ultimate attempt of the former American world power to try to remain a world power?

    I must confess that,
    forgetting that I quoted Putin on Saturday as having attacked the United States of A for what he said was its “almost uncontained” use of force around the world,
    I had (reading Der Spiegel before reading The Observer) originally understood this UNIPOLARITY as that there was no counterweight to the Eurasian bloc.

    Here’s the section “Power Distribution” in Chapter 2 “Power Politics” of Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, “International Relations”, Pearson-Longman, 2006-2007 edition, pp. 80- 81:
    With each state’s power balanced by other states, the most important characteristic of an international system in the view of many realists is the DISTRIBUTION OF POWER among states in an international system.
    +
    Sometimes in international power distribution (world or regional) is described in terms of polarity (a term adopted from physics), which refers to the number of independent power centers in the system>
    +
    In a MULTIPOLAR SYSTEM there are typically five or six centers of power, which are not grouped into alliances. […] Some International Relations researchers think that multipolarity provides a context for smooth
    interaction. [… But others disagree …]
    +
    At the other extreme, a UNIPOLAR SYSTEM has a single center of power around wh […].
    +
    A BIPOLAR SYSTEM has two predominant states or two great rival alliance blocs. Tight bipolar system, such as the East-West standoff in the 1950s may be distinguished from looser ones such as those that developed when china and (to a lesser extent) France split off from their alliance blocs in the 1960s. International Relations scholars do not agree about whether bipolar systems are relatively peaceful or warlike. The US-Soviet standoff seemed to provide stability and peace to great-power relations, but rival blocs in Europe before World War I did not.

    Yes, we seem to be evolving towards a UNIPOLAR SYSTEM whereby Eurasia will be the only pole left.
    But our American cousins seem to still be living sixteen years ago when the Berlin Wall fell. They seem to want to perpetuate the international power relations which have existed in the decade following it. Our cousins still seem to think that they are the only pole in this unipolarity,
    Perhaps, somebody should tell them, we’re now 2007 anno domini.

    You don’t believe me?

    The US of A is still arguing that we live in a MULTIPOLAR SYSTEM, said the BBC on Saturday evening.
    “In today’s MULTI-POLAR WORLD, there is no place for needless confrontation, and I would hope that Russian leaders understand this truth,” Senator McCain said.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/6350847.stm

    Is it then really surprising that Another
    (http://www.usagold.com/goldtrail/archives/another1.html
    – note the sarcasm of the site’s name – USA-gold )
    currency will take over as world reserve currency?

    The subject of this reaction was:

    IS WORLD PEACE BEING THREATENED?

    IS WORLD WAR III ABOUT TO START?

    Remember that the tensions concerning the (Iranian and other) applications to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are similar to the tensions preceding World War I.

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