JAPAN PUSHING JPEPA DUE TO WTO COLLAPSE The collapse of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks last week are pushing Japan to become even more aggressive in seeking bilateral and regional trade deals that advance its big corporate interests. More than ever, Japan will try to get through the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) and other such free trade deals what it could not get through the WTO. It is ironic that the Philippines appears poised to ratify JPEPA even as the WTO talks broke down precisely because of questions on the supposed development gains to be achieved from trade and investment liberalization.

The Japanese economy has grappled with stagnant growth and high unemployment for nearly two decades and is aiming to further open up other economies to cope with its internal problems. It is trying to overcome the crisis of its “bubble economy” which has lingered since the early 1990s. While it claimed to be on the way to recovery in 2002 the emerging scenario of a United States (US) economic slowdown, financial disorder, soaring energy and food prices only make its situation more urgent. As it is, Japanese corporations are already testing the political limits of what can be squeezed from its domestic labor force to support their profits. Hence they are now after the greatest possible access to the cheap labor and natural resources of the region with the least intervention and taxes from foreign governments.

The JPEPA’s provisions even go far beyond what was proposed in the failed WTO talks. It includes issues such as investment, government procurement and competition policy which were already rejected at the WTO. The tariff cuts it demands are also far greater than in the WTO.

This is why the Philippines will be on the losing end of the JPEPA which is designed most of all to benefit big Japanese corporations even at the expense of Philippine workers, peasants and economic development. There will only be even more foreign-dominated industrial and service enclaves disconnected from and not benefiting the local economy. Millions of Filipinos already merely struggling to survive will remain impoverished as unequal deals such as JPEPA prevents the economy from developing.

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