Trade talks with the European Union that were suspended during the time of President Duterte purportedly over human rights concerns, are being relaunched with the aim of concluding an ambitious and compressive trade and investment deal that would “level up” bilateral relations between the Philippines and the EU.

Aside from very broad and sweeping statements about potential benefits from such a deal however, very little has been disclosed about what the deal is about and whether or not it would be in the best interest of the Philippines to conclude this agreement.

The RCEP debates reminded us that the jury is still out on whether unbridled trade liberalization delivers benefits especially to the most marginalized sectors of society. Our experience shows that the rosy projections and promises of benefit for all have simply not materialized. Instead, we have seen how corporate driven globalization has led to an agricultural sector in crisis and de-industrialization. Across the globe we are seeing in fact a growing skepticism to globalization policies.

The negotiations for the EU-Philippines FTA were launched in 2015, or almost a decade ago. A lot has changed since then. The crisis of globalization has forced richer countries and regions to revise their strategies towards stronger mechanisms that favor their own interests, and implement policies that are protectionist in nature.

The increasing emphasis, for example, on securing supply chains as an overarching goal underscores this agenda. Countries in the global south, like the Philippines, that are usually at the lower end of global value chains – as sources of raw materials or as providers of cheap labor – are being made to accept that it is in their best interest as well to remove barriers and constraints to supply chains, and to contribute towards supply chain resilience, without interrogating the issues of equal benefits on the one hand, and shared obligations on addressing negative impacts on the environment and human rights, on the other.

The EU has highlighted  the importance to them of securing access and control over critical transition minerals. Their push for critical mineral agreements and FTAs are key instruments to diversify sources of raw materials and lessen their dependence on China.

The public deserves transparency from the Philippine government about this deal that is again being negotiated on its behalf.

The Trade Sustainability Impact assessment released in 2019 (prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic) is outdated and must be revised to reflect the context of multiple crises. Even then, the report already  highlighted a number of concerns including possible impacts on employment. A particular concern raised in the report is the “the shift of jobs away from sectors historically providing better working conditions such as the automotive sector, towards sectors for which there currently are concerns on working conditions, including the textile and wearing apparel sector, meaning that, if not countered by appropriate measures, more people could be at risk of being exposed to poor working conditions.”

There were also concerns over possible impact on human rights, particularly of indigenous people’s, women, and children. The assessment pointed out  that:

“A  future FTA would be likely to have impacts on (Filipinos) occupied in and around the sectors that see rapid expansion and especially the sectors where concerns already exist on human rights issues. For example, expansion of the textile and wearing apparel sector as well as of the electronics sector could potentially result in further risks of an increased use of child labour as well as have impacts on women’s rights. Similarly, expansion of the manufacturing sector could see increased land conversion for industrial manufacturing zones, potentially leading to indigenous peoples’ or minorities’ decreased access to customary lands as well as an increase in land disputes, which are not always properly handled (i.e. not according to the principles of free, prior and informed consultation and consent). “

The Philippine government should respond to these very serious concerns.

We also demand that the announced scoping studies be urgently released so there could be a more robust public debate about this deal.

The European Union seems to favor sweeping aside continuing concerns over human rights under the Marcos administration, the key concern that sidetracked the negotiations in 2017. We demand an updated and separate human rights impact assessment of this agreement.

It is important  to point out as well  the hypocrisy of the EU when it comes to its championing of human rights in the face of its complicity over the genocidal attacks by Israel on the civilian population in Gaza. Just as the EU suspended the FTA talks with ASEAN over Myanmar’s human rights atrocities, so must the Philippine government now take a position against the relaunch of the negotiations  over what is happening in Gaza and the role the EU is playing in perpetuating the atrocities there.

Trade Justice Pilipinas questions and challenges the assertion of the Philippine government that this agreement will be beneficial to the Philippines, particularly the Filipino working classes.

It is high time that the government abandon the already discredited free market ideology. Opening up the country to foreign capital should not be the default development agenda. It should instead move towards a worker and small producers centric agenda that builds our productive capacities and our own resilience to external shocks in order to respond in a just and sustainable way to the negative impacts arising from multiple crises.  #

23 March 2024

Contact :

Joseph Purugganan


[email protected]