Activists, farmers and NGOs are sounding the alarm over a new free-trade deal looming over growers in Southeast Asia – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

‘We need to stop it completely,’ says Kartini Samon, from the Jakarta chapter of GRAIN, an international non-profit which works to support small farmers. ‘No amount of tweaking will change the impact.’

If RCEP is agreed, food prices and environmental and health risks to farmers will rise, with smallholders in countries like Cambodia, Burma/Myanmar and Laos set to feel the biggest pinch, according to a recent report by GRAIN.

Leaked drafts of the new deal, which is proposed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, reveal that seed royalties could cause seed prices in Asia to rise by 200-600 per cent. It also suggests increased access to cheaper agro­chemicals and the use of computers to manage agricultural operations in member countries.

‘We need to build awareness of the threats posed by RCEP so that communities in member countries can put pressure on their governments,’ says Samon.

The deal, which is due to be finalized by the end of 2017, would directly impact some three billion people, including 420 million smallholder farms, which produce 80 per cent of the region’s food.

Kelsi Farrington