TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar18/05)
12 March 2018
Third World Network

Feminist groups say "NO" to CPTPP signing on Women's Day
Published in SUNS #8638 dated 9 March 2018

Geneva, 8 Mar (Kanaga Raja) - Over 50 feminists groups and allies from nine Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries have condemned the signing of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in Santiago, Chile on 8 March, the same day that International Women's Day is celebrated.

In a statement, the civil society groups expressed outrage that governments are signing away women's rights on the same day that they celebrate it.

The statement noted that on 8 March every year, women across the world remember and celebrate the struggles of women in the past and in the present "against patriarchy, against authoritarian regimes, against violence, against neo-liberal market fundamentalism that exploits our labour, silences our voices, privatises our public services and deregulates our market."

The International Women's Day celebrates the power of women's movements in advancing progressive policy changes and the solidarity actions that women have taken, from when women took to the streets for the right to vote and hold public office, when women went on strike to demand equal pay and to when women have celebrated other inspirational women in their lives, it said.

The civil society statement noted that the governments of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam will gather on the very day of 8 March 2018 in Santiago, Chile to ink the so-called Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) Agreement "that is neither progressive nor feminist."

The statement was signed by amongst others ACCION, Asociacion Chilena de ONG; ActionAid Australia; Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD); Asian Women for Equality (Canada); Association of Indigenous Peoples in the Ryukyus (Japan); Center for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas (Vietnam); DECA, Equipo Pueblo (Mexico); International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP); Malaysian Trades Union Congress; People's Health Movement (Chile); Think Centre (Singapore); and Peruvian Network for Globalization with Equity.

On this very day, "the TPP governments are determined to humiliate women's struggles and movements by pursuing an economic agenda that signs away the rights of women, creates conditions to exploit our labour, privatise our public services, deregulates our market and silence our voices," said Diyana Yahaya, Programme Officer, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), in a press release of 7 March.

According to the statement, the CPTPP, just like its predecessor the TPP, will drive a race to the bottom, with women at the bottom. It will promote labour competition and women's low wages as a source of competitive advantage for corporations.

"It will threaten women's access to public services through the reduction of tariffs that deprives governments of important revenue, the requirement that foreign corporations should be able to compete for public services, and the existence of investor protection mechanisms that discourage governments from reversing failed privatisation to introducing new regulations to increase public access or benefits to essential, basic public services."

When governments cut public social services such as healthcare, women's health is usually deemed expendable while they are expected to provide the unpaid care work to make up for it.

Based on the "national treatment" principle, CPTPP also require countries to treat foreign companies in the same way they treat local ones, pushing women, who are the majority of small scale, subsistence farmers, to compete against huge agro-businesses, said the groups.

With the tightened intellectual property rights, it will be a "big win" only for the large seed companies with legal power to prohibit seed sharing amongst farmers and require farmers to pay royalties for seeds for up to 20 or 25 years.

"Women, the custodian of seed, food and traditional knowledge who depend on the sharing of seed and other inputs from each other will be greatly harmed by the CPTPP, forced out of their farms and the local economy."

More outrageously, said the statement, the CPTPP maintains the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a mechanism that allows for foreign corporations to reach across borders and sue governments in unaccountable international tribunals if governments pass any laws, policies and practices that infringes on the corporations' rights to profit.

Corporations have used ISDS to avoid paying taxes, to undermine policies made in public interests such as health policy, to reverse affirmative action policies, to avoid obligations to protect the environment, to punish governments that introduce clean energy or to reverse failed privatisation.

"We, women's rights organisations and allies are outraged that governments have decided to not only proceed with the CPTPP despite all its criticism and fundamental lack of public, citizen's review, but to sign away women's human rights on the same day that we celebrate it."

The very same hard-fought rights that women's organisations and activists have fought for centuries, only to put powers and privilege in the hands of large multinational corporations and the wealthiest few. It is a breach of the very fundamental principle of social contract that sovereignty comes from the people, the groups argued.

They noted that so many of the governments which are part of the CPTPP have talked the rhetoric of women's human rights and gender equality, and some of them still do.

If countries in the CPTPP are genuinely committed to women's human rights and gender equality they must not proceed with the CPTPP, they said.

"We urge the governments of CPTPP to break the disguised assumption that opposition to trade agreements equates to nationalism and a rejection of accountable multilateralism," said the groups.

"Instead, our time requires the global community to urgently envision and chart out a different trade model that is based on solidarity economy and human rights, to protect the people and the planet, redistribute power, resources and wealth between men and women, and between rich and poor and between countries," the statement concluded.