Community groups urge ASEAN leaders to oppose ISDS in the RCEP and instead support people-centred development

June 24 2019: Leaders of the ten ASEAN countries met in Bangkok on June 22 and urged support for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade and investment deal between ASEAN and India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

But community organisation advocates meeting before the ASEAN summit argued that the RCEP development model favours international investor interests over people and the environment.

The meeting heard from Cambodian villagers whose land was seized by a Thai sugar company, and from critics of the displacement of villages by dams on the Mekong river in Laos.

Shalmali Guttal from the think tank Focus on the Global South said that this investor-centred development model was reinforced by the inclusion in the RCEP of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which gives special legal rights to foreign investors to sue governments for millions over changes in law or policy that harm their investments. He said that ISDS “weakens governments’ ability to protect people, the environment and public interests from encroachment by investors…If you look at all the agreements signed, as listed on the ASEAN website, you never see the term ‘people’. It’s like they don’t exist,” he said.

The meeting of community organisations issued a statement supporting more sustainable people-centred development and saying that ISDS should be “removed from trade and investment laws and agreements, with investors held legally accountable for negative impacts and rights abuses resulting from their projects.”

RCEP negotiations will take place in Melbourne from June 28-July 3. Australian community organisations also oppose ISDS and other harmful proposals in the RCEP, and are organising a public meeting on July 1 and a rally on July 2 to publicise their concerns.