By BONG B. FABE, Contributing Editor
CAGAYAN de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez urged the Aquino administration to pursue its ambition of joining the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership to boost the Philippines’ development and progress.
If accepted, the Philippines will become the 13th nation to join the TPP, after the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.
Rodriguez, however, expressed “reservations” about a provision in the Dispute Settlement chapter of the TPP, which appears to side with private companies against governments.
Article 28:1(c) of the 19-page Dispute Settlement chapter (Chapter 28 of the TPP) states that the dispute settlement provisions shall apply “wherever a party considers that a benefit it could reasonably have expected to accrue to it under Chapter 2 (National Treatment and Market Access for Goods), Chapter 3 (Rules of Origin and Origin Procedures), Chapter 4 (Textiles and Apparel), Chapter 5 (Customs Administration and Trade Facilitation), Chapter 8 (Technical Barriers to Trade), Chapter 10 (Cross-Border Trade in Services) or Chapter 15 (Government Procurement) is being nullified or impaired as a result of the application of a measure of another party that is not inconsistent with this Agreement.”
For many experts, the language of this provision is unequivocally “pro-private companies”.
Zeph Repollo, Philippine Campaigns coordinator of 350.org said such provisions laid the foundation for private corporations to attack and “directly sue governments in private and non-transparent trade tribunals over laws and policies if corporations consider they would reduce their profits. This means legislation designed to address climate change, curb fossil fuel expansion and reduce air pollution –among many crucial environmental and human rights protections — could all be subject to attack by corporations as a result of TPPA.”
The TPP Agreement, signed in October but whose text was made public only on November 5 after five years of secret negotiations among the 12 original countries “empowers corporations while undermining national economies, people’s democracy, environmental protection, health standards, and workers’ rights, allegedly to ensure policies do not hurt trade and investment.”
“Building inclusive economies for a better world requires people’s participation and definitely not corporate manipulation,” Repollo stressed.
The TPP is a landmarked piece of agreement among the 12 Pacific Rim economies that have a combined population of 800 million, and projected to account for 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 30 percent of world trade. They are also among the 21 economies making up APEC. Collectively, they could create a Pacific economic bloc that could rival China.
The Department of Trade and Industry called the TPP is a “significant component” of the country’s international trade strategy.
However, the Friends of the Earth said that while the TPP can be a platform for economic integration and government deregulation, it is also “a potential danger to the planet, subverting environmental priorities, such as climate change measures and regulation of mining, land use, and bio-technology.
FOE urged signatory countries to reject the [provision/s] “that would authorize foreign investors to bypass domestic courts and bring suit before special international tribunals biased in favor of multinationals. Foreign investors could seek awards of money damages, of unlimited size, in compensation for the cost of complying with environmental and other public interest regulations. They could even seek compensation for lost future profits.”
Rodriguez, however, warned of hindering the Philippines’ growth and progress by joining the TPP nations just because of the “perceived danger brought by Article 28:1 (c).”
“We have no other recourse but to join the TPP. We cannot afford to be left behind. However, we can express our reservation to this particular provision. Also, the TPP will still be subject to Congress’s ratification and even if Congress ratifies it, it will still be subject to our Constitution,” he said.