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Alternative Trade Groups on ASEAN Economic Integration in 2015: “A Hazy Future for the People”

By South East Asian Committee for Advocacy  •  June 27, 2013

Two years before the economic integration of the Southeast Asian economies, critics of neoliberal policies and the current global trade and investment regime, alternative trade campaigners and human rights activists raised concerns over the existing trade and investment policies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member-governments and the effects of these policies to the peoples and communities in the region.

“ASEAN 2015 is fast approaching and the ASEAN governments are busy negotiating fast-track, ambitious, and comprehensive bilateral free trade negotiations despite strong resistance from their people and history’s lessons how developing countries end up as losers in the liberalized multilateral trade system. While they compete with each other in removing trade barriers and guaranteeing investors’ rights, we hear very little about how ASEAN and our governments will protect our rights and interests against the negative impacts of unfair trade and investment policies,” said Dorothy of Focus on the Global South.

In the Thematic Briefing for Myanmar Civil Society: Trade and Investment in ASEAN held on 24 June 2013 at the YMCA International House in Yangon, Myanmar attended by local entrepreneurs, NGOs, academic and rights organizations, Ms. Guerrero said that ASEAN and its member-states are too focused on the ASEAN Economic Pillar and are entering into a lot of trade agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) without consulting the people and carefully studying the impacts of these agreements. She also said the regional organization is not yet ready for full economic integration. She added that even traditional economists in the region warn of potential conflicts in the face of economic mismatch among the members of ASEAN.

“I will not be entirely surprised if we see a wave of backlash from the people and the small entrepreneurs from all over ASEAN. They don’t certainly want an ASEAN Spring in their backyards. I can see that the future of the ASEAN single market may be a bit hazy,” Guerrero said.

Mr. Fauwaz Abdul Aziz of the Malaysia-based Third World Network said that civil society should study and scrutinize ASEAN trade agreements and engage their political leaders to challenge unfair trade policies. “It is the responsibility of the civil society in the region to build their capacities to engage policy-makers because, ultimately, it is our lives which will be affected by the ASEAN economic policies.”

Mr. Herjuno Kinasih of the Trade Knowledge Network of Indonesia added that “ASEAN governments should be able to protect the interests of their people. Big businesses should be held accountable if they wantonly disregard the environment and the rights of the people.”

The alternative trade groups forwarded other recommendations to counter the threats posed by economic integration:

  1. while building trade and industrial capacity in developing countries, especially SMEs’ capacity, is extremely important in trade policy formulation it is equally vital to develop measures that will protect human rights, and enforce labor and environmental standards
  2. since trade is a key component of development in ASEAN and the regional policies are getting more complex, inclusive trade policy formulation should be undertaken, i.e. by engaging civil society in trade policy formulation.
  3. maximizing the spaces provided by ASEAN by engaging the regional body at the national and regional levels, participating in dialogues, meetings, workshops in ASEAN
  4. utilizing existing mechanisms such as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), ASEAN Commission for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women of Women and Children (ACWC) to air grievances
  5. campaigning for stronger mechanisms to regulate business practices and pushing for greater corporate accountability
  6. studying international instruments such as conventions, protocols on trade and human rights

“The promise of a prosperous ASEAN community is truly enchanting. Who does not want progress? However, trade liberalisation is full of myths that have yet to deliver real improvement in the majority of people’s living standards and certainly the road to ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 is littered with dangerous threats to people’s livelihoods and economic resilience. ASEAN civil society can help to respond to the challenges and come up with alternatives to protect peoples rights,” said Corinna Lopa of the South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA), one of the co-organizers of the public briefing.

Meanwhile, in her presentation on the process of organizing the ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN Peoples Forum (ACSC/APF) which  Myanmar is also hosting next year, Ms. Lopa said that its main aim is to provide space for civil society organizations, NGOs and peoples’ movements to gather together, discuss pressing economic, political and socio-cultural issues in the region, and chart collaborative actions to respond to the present challenges. “It is for the Southeast Asian peoples, who can and will speak for themselves. It is not something that the government should control. ACSC/APF is for the people and it involves the right to be represented and should include the power to make decisions.”

The dozens of Myanmar civil society organizations, which attended the two-day ASEAN Awareness Workshop that followed the Thematic Briefing, agreed and added that the civil society space should be open and inclusive for all legitimate civil society organizations.

Contact Person: Joey Dimaandal, jdimaandal@seaca.net, +639088730349

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This post is in: ASEAN, Press Release

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