The first round of negotiations for an EU-Philippines Free Trade Agreement will commence next week (May 23-27) in Brussels, Belgium. A 60-person strong Philippine delegation led by outgoing DTI Secretary Adrian Cristobal, Jr will negotiate on behalf of the Philippines. The EU-PH FTA has been criticised by civil society groups for its ambitious agenda that will imperil peoples rights and national sovereignty. These talks follow the signing last month of another trade agreement with the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) States.
20 May 2016
Two activists from the Philippines representing the EU-ASEAN FTA Campaign Network will be in Brussels next week to help amplify concerns over a comprehensive agreement between the Philippines and the EU that will begin talks May 23 in the European capital city.
Health and women’s rights advocate Ana Maria Nemenzo will tackle issues related to the impact of the proposed trade agreement on public health and access to medicines.
Ana Maria R. Nemenzo:
“We believe that this agreement that will be negotiated with the EU, with its TRIPS+ provisions under the IPR chapter will go against the spirit and the letter of our Cheaper Medicines Law and will have push back efforts to ensure access to affordable medicines for millions of poor Filipinos”
“Medicines should be available on the basis of need rather than the ability to pay, this is a belief that has been stressed many times by the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as other global institutions. Sadly this belief has been undermined over the years by the strong, aggressive, and moneyed push for more restrictive patent-regimes such as those contained in so called new generation free trade agreements. We feel that this is not just highly unethical but immoral.”
According to a report of the Southeast Asia Public Health Initiative, in the Philippines and the rest of the region, public health systems are in a state of decline due to lack of resources, political commitment and leadership. Furthermore, limited and declining budgets on health, poor delivery infrastructure, and lack of strong public health legislation, make it difficult for governments to ensure that affordable medicines and treatment are made available for the population, especially to the poorest sectors.
“More affordable generic medicines are not readily available in the public health sector, and this is forcing patients to buy medicines from the private sector, where prices are generally higher and are often unaffordable. Any constraint on the availablility of generic medicines, would further aggravate this situation” according to Nemenzo.
Joseph Purugganan, Philippine program coordinator of Focus on the Global South and coordinator of the EU-ASEAN FTA regional campaign network will be joining Nemenzo in Brussels to help raise the peoples concerns against the FTA.
“In Brussels we expect the EU and the Philippine governments to trumpet the gains from EU-Philippines trade and investment over the decades, celebrating the growth in the Philippine economy, and how the current global context requires a forging of stronger strategic partnership.”
“We will go to Brussels to challenge this narrative of growth and development. While we support stronger EU-Philippines relations, we question the direction of strategic partnership, a partnership that is driven mainly by the corporate interest. We feel that this will not lead to equitable and sustainable development but to greater wealth concentration and inequality, destruction of the environment, and the erosion of peoples’ rights.”
“The EU’s Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström was crystal clear and unapologetic in her push for the corporate interest in these talks. Her message during the launch of the EU-Philippines talks in December 2015 she said:
'Launching negotiations with the Philippines will represent an important milestone in the EU-Philippine relations and a further evidence of the EU's commitment to Southeast Asia', said EU Trade Commissioner. 'The Philippines has been one of the fastest growing economies in the region in the recent years. We need to make sure our companies enjoy right conditions to seize the great potential of that market of 100 million consumers.'
“These talks that are about to begin in Brussels are clearly about the securing the interest of EU corporations. The ambitious agenda for greater investor rights as enshrined in the investment chapter and the ISDS provision, for restrictive IPR regime, and for regulatory coherence, will be pushed aggressively in these talks in the name of the corporate interest.”
Human Rights Issue
The campaigners will also raise the issue of human rights as an essential element of the talks. The European Ombudsman scolded the European Commission recently over what it referred to as “maladministration” over the Commissions “failure to carry out a specific human rights impact assessment, in relation to Vietnam.”
“The EU-Vietnam FTA is being seen as the template for the EU-Philippines deal, and we can similarly argue the necessity of a human rights impact assessment should apply to our case considering the potential impact of the deal to human rights in the Philippines,” according to Purugganan.
“A new administration under President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is upon us and I think it would be wise for the EU to make the necessary steps to conduct a human rights impact assessment prior to proceeding further with these talks” Purugganan added.
The Filipino campaigners will be in Brussels from May 24-27 organizing press conferences and speaking in forums and dialogues with trade campaigners.#