“21st Century Trade and Investment Policies:  Challenges and Implications on Land and Natural Resources in Asia and Europe”

 29-30 January 2015

One of the ten threats that  the United Nations High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change has officially warned the countries is environmental degradation, which is defined by the UN as “the reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs.” A most common case of environmental degradation is rapid depletion of natural resources as trade and investments have largely been on land and natural resources.

Economic activities like unsustainable industrial agriculture and fishing, and extractive industries such as mining have led to the exhaustion of our resources, and devastation of our environment and of people’s lives.  Peasants, small-scale fisherfolk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and communities are being dispossessed by the expansion of industrial agriculture, extractive industries and finance capital supported by public policies, thereby pushing these people into further poverty. Meanwhile, powerful corporations and investors are wantonly depleting fertile soils and extracting natural wealth normally through legal channels in the name of trade and investment under the cloak of legal frameworks and policies that allow them to conduct such activities.

Not only the United States, but Europe too has eyes set more steadily on Asia for trade and investment.  Asia, a region rich in mineral and other natural resources, is a region of high growth but with high levels of poverty and inequality.  Investments in land and natural resources are key drivers of growth in the region, thus governments are moving towards reforming policies including amending national laws and Constitutions in order to attract more foreign investments in key areas of agriculture and fisheries, mining and other extractive industries.

The European Union is strong in trade and investment in Asia which it recognized in 2006 to be an area where there is potential for growth. The EU is now Southeast Asia’s largest foreign investor while China, Japan, India, and South Korea are the big trading partners of EU in Asia aside from ASEAN.  It has a strategy to create open markets in Asia in the 21st century that looks beyond tariff reduction to trade barriers. Its Asia-Invest Programme launched in 2006 aims to promote and support business cooperation between the EU and Asia towards increased trade and investment flows between the two regions.  It can be recalled that the 2006 Communication from the Commission to the Council, European Parliament, and the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, entitled “Global Europe: Competing in the World,” has argued that EU’s openness to trade to others and vice versa is not just on tariffs, but also on non-tariff barriers and access to resources such as energy, metals, and primary raw materials including agricultural materials.

The European Union has thus, over the years, pushed for bilateral free trade agreements in Asia; it has proactively engaged in negotiations for a number of significant FTAs in the region. It has been proactive in approaching Asian countries to conclude FTA in shorter time possible such as the FTAs with South Korea and Singapore which were already concluded in 2010 and 2012 respectively. The EU’s FTA with South Korea was entered into force in 2011 while the FTA with Singapore still awaits ratification by all EU member States for it to come into force. Aside from India and Japan, there are FTAs in 3 ASEAN countries that the EU also hopes to conclude soon. These are with Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand.  Even China wants a bilateral investment treaty with the EU. The EU’s Asia-Pacific free trade policy demonstrates that it is all encompassing of Asia, signaling that China is not the only economic option for the EU.

There are other countries in the EU- FTA pipeline. In July 2014, the Philippines also signed a cooperation framework with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which is a first step to FTA. There are dynamics experienced by some countries in ASEAN as the FTA negotiations progress particularly towards more comprehensive trade agreements (especially in the fields of trade and investment) that need to be monitored by the communities in the two regions.  Indonesia is also engaged in talks with the EU for an EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (Indonesia-EU CEPA) which is expected to include provisions on investments and investor protection, but these negotiations have also been hampered since last year.

Governments in both regions recognize the crucial role of trade and investment in realizing sustainable growth. At the 10th ASEM Summit held in Milan in October 2014, “Asian and European leaders reiterated their commitment to striving for an open world economy and to strengthening trade and investment relations for stronger economic connectivity between both regions. Leaders underlined their commitment to enhancing inter-regional trade and investment flows. They also recalled that there are global challenges faced by Europe and Asia that are associated with growing population, pressures on natural resources, and climate change which require improved sustainable, safe and efficient food systems as a means of ensuring food and nutrition security. ASEM leaders agreed that good land governance and secure access to land, energy, research and innovation, integrated and sustainable management of water resources, forests and fisheries, and more inclusive agricultural value chains, enhancement of public-private partnership, investment in family farming and sustainable and climate-smart agriculture are important for food and nutrition security and higher productivity of the agricultural sector.”[1]

Trade and investment policies and/or agreements in Asia especially on extractive industries are important to be built or reformed by respective member countries.  For instance, it was the decision of the Indonesian government to terminate its Bilateral Investment Treaty with the Netherlands.  In ASEAN, adoption of just and sustainable trade policies is being pushed by civil society  in  light of economic integration of the region that will come into force in 2015 and of the many bilateral and multilateral trade agreements proliferating in the region.It is  important to look into the role of ASEAN as exporter of natural and mineral resources particularly to the ASEAN +3 countries (China, Japan and South Korea). Towards the ASEAN Economic Community 2015, there is no mining and extractive industry policy which sufficiently protects the State and the public from the adverse effects of investments in this sector, such as on labor, environment/climate change, and tourism.

It is therefore important to better understand and respond to the latest developments on investment cooperation agreement between the European Union and countries in Asia, particularly the challenges of the agreement to the protection of the rights of the local community and environmental sustainability.

 It is with the above backdrop that the Asia-Europe People’s Forum is holding a thematic dialogue on land and natural resources with the theme: “21st Century Trade and Investment Policies: Challenges and implications on Land and Natural Resources in Asia and Europe.” This event is also a follow-through activity to the AEPF10 discussions in Milan, Italy in October 2014 in order to comprehend more the realities and technicalities surrounding the issue and strengthen recommendations to ASEM and other stakeholders especially the policy-makers in ASEM member States and governments. This conference also serves as a venue to strategise on raising public awareness on the FTAs and the role and dynamics with ASEM and its member States, and on strengthening solidarity and cooperation among civil society in advancing the alternative proposals to ASEM and our governments especially in ASEAN.

General Objective:  Increase the level of understanding or knowledge of civil society in Asia and Europe on the dynamics of investment cooperation in both regions, particularly on land and natural resources, and for the civil society to be able to participate and contribute more meaningfully in dialogues on these issues with their respective governments and with ASEM which is an informal process of dialogue and cooperation among member countries that aim for creating an enabling environment for the prosperity of their people.

Specific Objectives: (a) Identify the collective advocacy strategy of Asian especially the Southeast Asian and EU civil society in addressing the challenges posed by post-Bali trade and investment agenda; (b) Tackle the important points from AEPF10 session on Sustainable Land and Natural Resources Management and strengthen recommendations to ASEM, EU, and ASEAN leaders especially in light of ASEAN Economic Integration in 2015; and(c) Come up with concrete recommendations and actions for the governments of ASEM so that its activities and actions would truly benefit the people in both regions.


  1. Common statement in response to the challenges and implications of investments in both regions, especially related to the land and natural resources, and containing some concrete recommendations to ASEM and member States and governments.
  2. Action plan or working paper for campaign and lobby on the agenda on sustainable land and natural resources management including on related issues on trade and investment.


About 45 participants are targeted to attend the event. Thirty (30) resource persons and participants coming from the social movements, academe, and parliamentarians will come from Europe and Asia; and 15-20 from Indonesia, mostly those campaigning on trade, environment, and natural resources issues.

[1] Excerpt from the Chair’s Statement of the Tenth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM-10) Summit in Milan, Italy on 16-17 October 2014.