Hyderabad: Across the Asia-Pacific region, over the past two and a half decades, the private sector has grown exponentially. This led to widespread privatisation and a decreased role of the state in the provision of essential services – such as healthcare, education, electricity, sanitation and water.
As part of the activities of the Peoples Resistance Forum against Free Trade Agreements FTAs (FTAs) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a one day workshop on ‘RCEP and the Corporate Attack on Public Services’ was held at the Sudarayya Vignana Kendram (SVK) in Hyderabad, the venue of the 19th Round of RCEP trade negotiations.
Speaking at the first session, V Lakshmi, Asia Pacific Secretary of Public Services International (PSI) said that ‘While Trade Unions and their allies confront various national processes that undermine the provision of quality public services, it is important to understand and influence international processes that will undermine decent work, democratic control and access to quality public services. The latest and biggest FTA challenge confronting workers in the Asia-Pacific region is the 16 nation Regional Comprehensive Partnership.’
Dr. Amit Sengupta from the Peoples Health Movement (PHM) a global network of public health activists and practitioners provided an overview of how public services became part of the global trading regime in the 1990s with the establishment of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). ‘While the GATS negotiations have been stuck, we need to understand that FTAs such as the RCEP are now the new avenue for further de-regulating essential services such as health’, he said. ‘But we also need to recognise that international treaties such as the RCEP are part of the problem. The bigger challenge is confronting our own neo-liberal governments who have created a compact with large corporations to undermine public services and workers rights. It is these domestic lobbies for liberalisation that are actively pushing processes such as the RCEP, despite the evidence that institutions such as the WTO and FTAs have completely failed the Indian People’, he concluded
The organisers at the workshop released a new report titled Reclaiming Public Services – how cities and citizens are turning back privatisation . Despite the challenges of privatisation, trade agreements and the entrenchment of neo-liberal governments, the report shows that there is progressive change underway in several parts of the world. Thousands of public officials, workers, unions, and social movements are working to create effective public services that address the basic needs of people and respond to social, environmental and climate challenges. They do this most often at the local level. The report is co-published by the Transnational Institute , Public Services International , Multinationals Observatory and Municipal Services Project
These successful and inspirational cases also underline the reason as to why we should reject trade agreements such as RCEP and clauses like the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), said, Benny Kuruvillasenior researcher with the Transnational Institute. The report found that in 20 cases (10 in water, 3 in energy, 3 in transport and 4 in telecom) when a decision was taken to de-privatise, international arbitration cases were triggered. India has already been the target of 20 arbitration cases as per another report by the Transnational Institute titled The hidden costs of RCEP and corporate trade deals in India .There is a growing awareness among trade unions and municipal councillors that the current trade and investment regime will severely limit the state’s ability to regain public and democratic control over public services.
Prominent trade unionists such as Thomas Franco (All India Bank Officers Confederation -AIBOC), V Narasimhan (All India National Life Insurance Employees Federation -AINLIEF), R Shanmugarajan (Tamil Nadu Government Officials Union -TNGOU) and Prakash Devdas (Mumbai Mahanagar Karmachari Mahasangh -MKMM) spoke at the meeting. Professor Dinesh Abrol from the All India Peoples Science Network, Fatima Burnad from the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum, Charles Meesa from the National Alliance of Dalit Organisations (NADO) and Legal Researcher Kajal Bhardwaj also spoke at the workshop.
The workshop was co-organised by Public Services International, Transnational Institute, Focus on the Global South, Indonesia for Global Justice, All India National Life Insurance Employees Federation and Indian National Municipal and Local Bodies Federation.