With the completion of its Charter, the Association on South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is receiving a renewed interest among its neighbors in the region and beyond. While ASEAN may not be as cohesive as other regional bodies, its member countries have so much natural and human resources to offer that ASEAN remains a strategic body to engage. This is more or less the logic behind the European Union's pursuit for a Partnership Cooperation Agreement with ASEAN.
The Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) is another name for the series of free trade agreements between ASEAN member countries and the EU. According to the European Council, PCA is “a legal framework, based on the respect of democratic principles and human rights, setting out the political, economic and trade relationship between the EU and its partner countries.” It is a ten-year bilateral treaty between the EU and another state. For the Philippines, the proposed PCA encompasses foreign ownership of private lands, fisheries access, media, practise of professions, resource use, and open skies policy, among others.
But as in other ASEAN processes in the past, documents with regard to this proposal are not available to the public. It is even more unlikely for public consultations to be organised. “There is little information on the process, particularly on the [proposed] fields of investment,” shared Golda Bejamin, of the lawyers collective, Ideals.
Benjamin added that unlike with Mexico and Chile, EU would consider ASEAN as an equal partner. But by ASEAN, it means the more progressive member countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. “The EU might go for a more aggressive stance. But it will be an ASEAN-3. EU will not negotiate with Cambodia, Laos, and Burma. So it will take a bilateral route which is more dangerous.”
Such danger is expected to be hidden, not only through the current unavailability of the documents and the absence of consultations but in otherwise human rights language, which can potentially divide civil society groups. According to Banjamin, EU will insert provisions on “transparency” and “pro-labour policies.” The EU will also prescribe to itself and will not deal with a state that has a notorious human rights track record.
Benjamin shared that while the Philippines is still sitting on the EU's proposed PCA, there are already movements in Thailand and Indonesia.
Philippine women's groups are already anticipating the EU-Philippines PCA process. Led by the coalition, Women's March, women's groups are preparing for a conference that would further explore the implications of the agreement.