RCEP: The new mega-deal that’s more secretive than the TPP

Not too long ago, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was dubbed ‘the biggest trade deal you’ve never heard of’ because it was negotiated behind closed doors with very little public information available. But once the text was released it became clear that the TPP was a bad deal for workers, democracy, health and the environment.

Since then, we’ve seen a groundswell of opposition to the deal with both US presidential candidates coming out against it. Here in Australia 300,000 people have signed petitions, there has been lively media debate and groups as diverse as unions, Greenpeace, The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council and GetUp have rallied together outside Parliamentary hearings across the country.

The future of the TPP is looking increasingly rocky. But global corporations and the Turnbull Government are already setting their sights on another mega-trade deal, one which is even bigger and even more secretive than the TPP: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The biggest regional trading block in the world

The RCEP has been described as China’s answer to the TPP - it involves all ten ASEAN countries, plus China, Japan, India, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations are now in their fourth year and the aim is to finalise the agreement by mid-next year.

The RCEP is even more secretive than the TPP, which was infamous for its lack of transparency. While the TPP negotiations did include some limited civil society stakeholder consultation, opportunities for public interest groups like AFTINET to ask questions and express their views during RCEP negotiations have been few and far between.

If it goes ahead, the RCEP would cover half of the world’s population.

ISDS, access to medicines and labour rights are key concerns

Because of the secrecy, we can’t be sure what’s in the RCEP negotiating text, but we do know from leaked documents that there are proposals to include some of the worst aspects of the TPP.

We know that there is a push to include TPP-like rights for corporations to sue governments (ISDS) proposals in the RCEP. It appears that India and some ASEAN countries are resisting these clauses and want more exclusions for public interest legislation. We will continue to fight against the undemocratic ISDS system from being included in any trade agreement.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called for the removal of harmful intellectual property provisions that could potentially raise treatment costs by creating new forms of monopolies and delaying the entry of affordable generics in the market.

The RCEP could also include increased numbers of  temporary migrant workers who are vulnerable to exploitation, without testing whether local workers are available

Stay informed

AFTINET has joined with civil society organisations in all sixteen RCEP countries to call for more stakeholder negotiation and less secrecy. We’ll continue to monitor these negotiations as they progress.

Stay informed by:

  • Signing up to receive our monthly updates or joining AFTINET
  • View our online forum ‘Lives on the Line’, with speakers from AFTINET and Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This was live on October 18 and now available for viewing via this link.


Updated: 14 October 2016