The GABRIELA National Alliance of Women is resolutely opposed to the ongoing processes of consolidating free trade arrangements among the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the fast track with which ASEAN is facilitating the establishment of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The move towards finalizing the One ASEAN plan will only serve to consolidate the independent ASEAN markets into one ASEAN Regional Free Trade Zone under the neo-liberal framework. Needless to say, this will further render millions of Filipino women landless, jobless, and foodless.
Converting ASEAN into a single market and single production base will further decimate local national industries of ASEAN countries. Factories and export processing zones that turn out consumer items for re-export will be given free trade incentives including repression of wages and labor rights, local taxpayer subsidies for foreign investors, and tax breaks. Women who flock to these production zones are most likely to be mercilessly exploited with long hours of temporary and home-based employment and hazardous and unhealthy working conditions.
Even as the US-AFTA has been in place for several years, ASEAN is now rushing into the RCEP agreement after the US failed to impose the same in the discredited Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). RCEP is but a rehash of the neoliberal “Free Trade” ideology, this time with China and Russia at the center instead of the US, that has been in place since the end of the last world war, dictating that agricultural economies remain exporters of cheap resources such as mineral ore and timber and importers of expensive finished goods from industrialized countries.
Like the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), RCEP will further destroy our food security by forcing our governments to buy surplus basic grain and reorient local farm production towards palm oil, fiber, and other high value crops to feed the needs of upscale global markets. Foremost example of the bad effects of free trade is the chronic price spikes and constant shortage of rice and corn for Filipino consumers, while rice farms are converted to cash crops and real estate.
It will also further fuel the growing economic, political and military rivalry of the US and China in the region, compromising the desired peace and sovereignty of the independent ASEAN Nations.
Instead of the unfair trade agreements like the ASEAN Regional Free Trade and the RCEP, the peoples of the Philippines and other Asian nations want an independent economic framework that ensures adequate wages, safe and secure employment, respect for women and children, food security, and environmental protection, guarantees for which will be wiped out as neoliberal threats, as such agreements continue to enrich only the monopoly capitalists and their bureaucrat capitalist puppet regimes.
GABRIELA will continue working with broad popular movements and struggles in the international community to raise awareness about the negative impact of such trade agreements and the need for a truly independent, peaceful, and prosperous ASEAN for the people. Instead of compromising itself into such agreements, the Philippines and other ASEAN nations must promote sustainable economic production for their respective nations and not the export global market. ###