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Updates from the ASEAN Peoples' Forum

Stop trading away our food sovereignty! End TPP Now!


One of the creative flashmob style protests at APF 2015 was by activists protesting the notorious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which poses potential devastation on communities in the region. The protestors explain their reasons in the following statement:

We, representatives of farmers, indigenous peoples, youths and various civil society organisations across South and Southeast Asia working to promote biodiversity-based, ecological and sustainable food production systems, are concerned about the continuing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement because of its potentially devastating impacts on agriculture, on our collective rights to land and resources, and our struggle for food sovereignty in the Asia-Pacific region.

The TPP is currently being negotiated among twelve countries in Asia-Pacific including four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Under the negotiating framework, countries are obliged to comply their existing and future policies with the norms set forth in the proposed TPP chapters. Draft proposals cover agriculture and services, food and product standards, land use and natural resources, government procurement, intellectual property rights and regulatory harmonisation, to name a few. Led by the US, the TPP calls for harmonisation with the US trade rules and standards, which could spell greater liberalisation of agriculture and privatisation of the food industry amongst its member countries. This could outrightly destroy rural economies, worsen the poverty and intensify the marginalisation of rural folks, and undermine sustainable food production. Even the very secretive nature of the negotiation process violates every principle of democracy, citizenship and good governance as citizens have hardly any meaningful access to the drafts and even our own negotiators. We are also aware that many ASEAN trade related policies and regulations may also have an impact on our rights to land and food sovereignty.

With the TPP, seed companies and agribusiness giants would be in a very good position to cash in on the widespread commercialisation of GE crops. On the one hand, it would encourage agribusiness companies to tap into feed and fuel markets through contract farming, either by sub-contracting the landed elites, or assembling small farmers into a group of contract producers. This will intensify the production of industrial crops in plantation monoculture setting, which will sideswipe smallholder farmers, many of them currently engaged in agroecological production systems. The economic viability of their agricultural production will be threatened by competitive pressure from this forced integration into so-called “regional markets” controlled by the big corporations. With a tighter corporate control on seeds and the food system, the TPP could pull the whole landscape of agricultural production into downward spiral. It would threaten not only food safety but all efforts on shifting towards a sustainable food system.

With GE crops being mainstreamed, farmers are faced not only with the risk of genetic contamination but also legal consequences since nearly all GE crops are patented or IPR-protected. TPP’s Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) chapter requires each negotiating country to ratify nine IPR regimes including that of WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Budapest Treaty and International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants – all of which provides for the patenting of life forms.This means that countries that will be growing GE seeds will have to enforce the IPR of its “owners” and ensure that their right to profit from those seeds will be protected. Ironically, the rights of the communities from where the patented materials originated is not within the scope of the TPP.  While it extends monopoly rights to large corporations like Monsanto, it offers no protection at all for the vast amounts of knowledge, seeds and biodiversity held by farmers in developing countries. These unjust rules make farmers and local communities subject to “biopiracy” and exploitation. With a strong agenda in enforcing IPR, the TPP will ensure that corporate interest takes primacy over public good.

It’s important to remember that a company like Monsanto has proven time and again that it spares no one in prosecuting farmers for breaching its patent on genes and seed varieties even if it was a result of accidental contamination. With TPP, not only will Monsanto be able to sue farmers; it can even sue governments and states. The TPP provides foreign investors and companies favourable treatment by proposing to remove domestic non-trade barriers (which protects domestic industries from unfair competition), and extending to them the same rights and privileges as any citizen of the member countries they operate in. This ensures that investors and companies are protected against host government actions or policies that do not meet certain standards of treatment perceived to cause them economic harm.

With special legal privileges conferred on them, foreign investors and companies can launch attacks against a country’s non-trade laws or sue governments in third party arbitration tribunals for failing to meet standards.With the TPP, foreign investors and companies can challenge national legislations designed to protect food security or public health if they find it violating their so-called “right”. This means that companies like Monsanto can sue governments over legislation that calls for higher standards of food safety such as through mandatory labelling or moratoriums on genetically engineered food.

Confronted with all these threats, we call on all governments involved in the negotiations to stop trading our food sovereignty and end the TPP agreement now. For our part, we will continue to build alternatives on the ground such as the numerous initiatives to preserve, develop and promote small-scale, biodiversity-based, climate resilient and food secure farming systems. Together with the broader farmers’ movement across the globe fighting for food sovereignty, we will build momentum for community resistance and reclaim our rights to land, livelihood, seeds and biodiversity.

In solidarity with the resource-poor farmers and toiling peasants in South and Southeast Asia, we endorse this statement.

List of signatories

  • Pesticide Action Network Asia and Pacific
  • Pax Romana ICMICA- Asia
  • North South Initiative – Malaysia
  • Peoples Service Organization- Malaysia
  • Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria – Indonesia
  • People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty – Asia, Latin America and Africa
  • Ibon International – Philippines
  • Vikalpani – Sri Lanka
  • Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform – Sri Lanka
  • Roots for Equity – Pakistan
  • Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) – Philippines
  • AMIHAN National Federation of Peasant Women – Philippines
  • All Nepal Peasants’ Federation – Nepal
  • Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum – India
  • Bangladesh Krishok Federation – Bangladesh
  • MINERAL – India
  • Sarawak Dayak Iban Association – Malaysia
  • GRAIN – Philippines
  • APPUV – India
  • Coalition of Cambodia Farmers Community – Cambodia