KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The theme of the 2015 ASEAN Summit — “Towards a People-Centered ASEAN” — can only become a reality with a social agenda that sets policies to benefit people in the region and not only corporations, groups attending the ASEAN People’s Forum here said.
The current direction of ASEAN economic integration is through market-centered liberalization of trade in goods, services, and investment, as well as movement of skilled labor, said the ASEAN Trade Union Council, Malaysian Trade Union Congress, Migrants Forum in Asia, Monitoring Sustainability of Globalization, and Network for Transformative Social Protection.
At the event gathering about 1,400 NGO participants prior to the ASEAN Summit, the groups called for an ASEAN economic integration that puts the interests of the majority of the regions’ citizens, including workers, farmers, small businessmen, and fishermen, at the core of its processes.
“Regional integration has potential for good, but it has to be fair and its benefits must be experienced by the people. A Social ASEAN is one where people matter where the fruits of integration are distributed among the people,” said Charles Santiago of MSN.
Santiago, who is also an opposition member of parliament from Malaysia and chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said the interests of the majority remain neglected in the ASEAN integration process.
The ASEAN Summit 2015 from April 24 to 27 is crucial as the regional bloc tries to hammer out the ASEAN Economic Community, which aims to create a single market and production base at the end of 2015.
Santiago pointed out that the ASEAN Economic Community is being established while ASEAN residents are confronted with loss of livelihood and labor protection, low wages, and escalating food prices.
In addition, he said, ASEAN member nations are facing widening income and wealth inequality – an indication that the socio-cultural pillar has failed in its task to promote and protect the rights of ASEAN citizens.
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“While member countries will become more closely linked in terms of economy, political security, and socio-cultural pillars, the ASEAN Economic Community will benefit and promote the interests of multinational corporations, big businesses, and regional elite,” said Charles Santiago of the MSN.
“Put differently, the ASEAN Community promotes Business ASEAN,” he added.
The groups also asked Malaysia, as ASEAN chair, to promote the idea of a Social ASEAN at the summit, stressing that Prime Minister Najib Razak, in the 2014 handing over speech in Naypyidaw, Myanmar said, “ASEAN’s continued economic growth, the fruits of development should be felt by the people and touch their lives.”
The prime minister had said, “We hope to steer ASEAN closer to the people of Southeast Asia — to make this institution part of their daily lives by creating a people-centered ASEAN.”
To deliver on this statement, Najib needs to push for a strong social dimension to the economic integration of the region, as it would promote the interests of the majority, Santiago said.
To do this, the groups promote the Agenda for a Social ASEAN that promotes the following: region-wide implementation of ILO core labor standards; universal access to social protection; strengthening social dialogue; affordable access to food, health care, social services, housing, and education in all ASEAN member countries; and an enforceable ASEAN declaration on the protection of migrant workers.
In addition it requires ASEAN-wide legally binding domestic laws and appropriate polices, institutions, and enforcement mechanisms to implement the 2013 ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Elimination of Violence against Children.
“If governments can reach agreements on investments and reduction of tariffs, I don’t see why they cannot do these, as these are basic to life and living,” Santiago said. –Veronica Uy, InterAksyon.com
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