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‘New Age’ Trade Agreements and their Possible Contribution to Toxic Trade

Richard Gutierrez

elni Review 2010, Issue 2,  pp. 46-52.

Over the past seven years, a spate of bilateral “new age” economic partnership accords have been struck between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and several of its members namely: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. These agreements were seen as Japan’s response to the growing Chinese economic power and influence in the region. The seeds to these agreements were planted in 2002 when Japan began a parallel approach towards building closer economic relations between Japan and the ASEAN community. Japan utilised the moniker “economic partnership agreements” (JEPAs) to call the agreements, which are essentially trade agreements that complement the basic WTO agreements on goods and services, and incorporate areas presently not covered under the WTO called the “Singapore issues” (i.e., investment, government procurement, competition policy, and trade facilitation). These JEPAs have invariably been called “WTO-Plus” agreements and “Mega-Treaties” to evoke their scope and magnitude. Civil society groups voiced concerns over the JEPAs questioning their constitutionality to the impact of the trade related provisions on the local economy. Amidst the din of protests the JEPAs received in Southeast Asia the issue of toxic waste trade resonated with most prominence. The issue of Japan’s intent to make Southeast Asia its toxic waste bin and the ensuing environmental and public health blight that could occur as a result of the tsunami of Japanese toxic wastes caught the public and the government of Japan’s attention.
This article examines the legal provisions under the JEPAs that gave rise to the concerns over toxic waste trade and dumping, and the implications these have on the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements, particularly that of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal by the Southeast Asian countries who are parties to the JEPAs.

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