Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) Conference

“21st Century Trade and Investment Policies: Challenges and Implications

on Sustainable Land and Natural Resources Management in Asia and Europe”

 Jakarta,  29-30 January 2015

Opening Remarks

By Tina Ebro

On behalf of the AEPF International Organizing Committee, a warm welcome! Our many thanks that you can come and share your valuable contributions today and tomorrow. Much thanks, too, to the Indonesian Global Justice (IGJ)  and the committee of movements and NGOs that organized this event with the AEPF International Organizing Committee.

Recently, friends in France described the AEPF as a precious vehicle that links progressive Asian and European movements -  movements that work persistently  for a just, participatory and sustainable world. They said AEPF has opened dynamic networks on major issues, and keeps the links between these organizations alive. So there is a campaign network for just trade and against the European Union’s FTA with the ASEAN, a campaign network for transformative social protection in Asia, an Asia-Europe peace and security network, and projects on water justice, no-nukes, and alternative regionalism.

AEPF has organized every two years People’s Forums or civil society summits prior to the ASEM Summit. Thus in Milan, last October over 400 participants from 42 countries joined together – representatives of networks and NGOs, scholars and academicians, progressive parliamentarians and policy makers – under the theme  “Towards a Just and Inclusive Asia and Europe: Challenging Unjust and Unequal Development, Building States of Citizens for Citizens”. The gathering tackled major issues of Just Trade and Investment, Transformative Social Protection, Climate Justice, Peace and Security, Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Land and Natural Resource Management. 

This conference is in fact a follow-through activity to the discussions in Milan particularly on the new generation trade and investment agreements and their impact on land and natural resources, and on the peasantry and rural communities. At the plenary and workshops, eminent thinkers and powerful grassroots representatives have highlighted the following  major points that may serve as underpinnings  to our discussions here:

That the peasantry - composed of small farmers, landless peasants, fisher folk, indigenous peoples – constitute nearly 50 percent of the world’s population of 7 billion. They feed the world,  serve as stewards of natural resources, and safe-guard the future sustainability of agricultural systems. But they are  under threat.

Under threat, too, are the commons of humankind - the land, forests, water, oceans and other natural resources that have been privatized, commodified and controlled by corporate power and the elite.  These commons are the life, livelihoods and future of one-half of  humanity .  

Our resource persons have stressed  as well   that the World  Banks’s and International Monetary Fund’s imposition of structural adjustment or neoliberal policies in the 80s and 90s, crippled the agricultural capacities of most developing countries and dispossessed millions of peasants of their land and livelihoods. Therefore we can link the dispossession of the peasantry with the rise of widespread structural unemployment and the dramatic rise of the precariat or labour  in the informal sector.

Trapped in precarious temporary work in hostile conditions the precariat compose about 2/3 of the working people in Asia.

Scholars in Milan have shared that the violations of peasants' rights will mount in this millennium by the  adoption of more aggressive trade and investment policies like the TTIP and TPP which call for the highest form of   liberalization,  deregulation and privatization of public goods and services. Protective regulations will be further removed that safeguard labour, consumers and the environment. These Free Trade Agreements (FTA) will have devastating effects in the countryside - on people’s lives and livelihoods, on the sustainability of  land and natural resources.

So we hope that our discussions here will deepen our understanding and analysis  of these challenges and we can identify alternative and viable proposals that we can forward to the ASEM, EU, SAARC and ASEAN heads of states and officials. We are aware that these regional blocs have been designed as bigger markets and richer sites of exploitation. That is why civil society engagement with these bodies is important to expose and derail these processes such as these FTAs that only serve the agenda of corporate power.

It is also imperative in the region to wage an advocacy for a Peoples Social Agenda for a Life of Dignity.  The ASEAN Economic Community will be launched at the end of this year, and the blueprint for regional integration  is open regionalism, which will be cemented by FTAs.  

Therefore let me close and stress that our solutions and alternatives need to go beyond the logic of endless growth and this profit-driven paradigm which is the basis of the capitalist system.  In fact our struggles - across countries and across regions - that fight for agrarian justice, for just trade, for climate and environmental justice, offer the momentum to overhaul and transform this political and economic system.

This system has engendered an unprecedented crisis of inequality in our time - illustrated by 80 individuals controlling about 48 percent of the world’s resources. Oxfam said these billionaires or trillionaires can even fit in a bus! This system has engendered as well an urgent climate crisis, and a lingering economic crisis with no end in sight.  So more than ever, we need  a new system that would reverse  the destruction of our earth and all life in it. We need a new system that would restore humanity’s relationship  with nature and solidarity among peoples.

[Tina Ebro is active in Coordinating Team of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), and in the Facilitating Team of the Network for Transformative Social Protection (NTSP).]