Is the RCEP the TPP by another name?

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.

After six long years of campaigning both in Australia and internationally, the deal faced so much community opposition that it was no longer politically viable.

But despite the TPP’s demise, global corporations and some governments including the Australian government are pushing to repeat the same failed model in other trade agreements. First in line is another mega-trade deal, one which is even bigger and even more secretive than the TPP: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Even more secretive than the TPP

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, but it does not include the US. Negotiations are now in their fourth year and the aim is to finalise the agreement by the end of 2017.

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.

TPP-like rules for ISDS, access to medicines, labour rights

Because of the secrecy, there’s a lot we don’t know about the RCEP negotiating text. But we do know from leaked documents that there is a push to use the failed TPP as a model for the RCEP.

Some of the worst and most controversial clauses of the TPP are being proposed in the RCEP, including rights for corporations to sue governments (ISDS) and extended monopoly rights for pharmaceutical companies to charge higher prices for medicines.

The RCEP could also increase the numbers of temporary migrant workers who are vulnerable to exploitation without testing whether local workers are available.

These are the very clauses that made the TPP so unpopular, and they have little to do with trade between countries. Instead, they are about creating rules that extend corporate power at the expense of people and the planet.

Because of these proposals, the RCEP is already facing the same opposition from public health and other community groups as the TPP did.

At this stage, it appears that India and some ASEAN countries are resisting the worst of these clauses. But we’ll need another coordinated international and domestic campaign to ensure that the RCEP isn’t just another TPP by a different name.

Stay informed

AFTINET has joined with civil society organisations across the Asia Pacific region to insist that the RCEP must not be another TPP. We’re also calling for  more public consultation and release of negotiating texts. We’ll continue to monitor these negotiations as they progress.

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Updated: 19 April 2017