The RCEP now in force but still fails the human rights test
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations began in 2012 between 16 countries: India China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 ASEAN countries, which represented half the world's population.
The RCEP text remained secret until after it was signed, but leaked documents during the negotiations showed that the RCEP could have included corporate rights to sue governments, stronger monopolies on medicines that would delay the availability of cheaper generic medicines, restricted regulation of essential services and allow for more temporary workers vulnerable to exploitation, without any protections for workers’ rights or the environment. We linked with similar campaigns in other countries to oppose these damaging proposals.
Campaign Achievements: India withdraws and some damaging proposals removed
In November 2019, 15 governments claimed they had completed the text of the deal, but strong community campaigns from Indian civil society forced the Indian government to withdraw, which reduced its claimed benefits for Australia and other countries. Some of the most damaging clauses like corporate rights to sue governments and stronger medicine monopolies were removed.
But the RCEP still fails the human rights test
The text was signed and released on November 15, 2020. Despite gross violation of human rights in Myanmar, China and the Philippines, the RECP has no commitments to human rights, labour rights or environmental standards, could restrict government regulation of essential services like aged care and restrict government action for local industry development for economic recovery, There has been no independent study of is costs and benefits, and even the Morrison government doesn't claim that it provides extra markets for Australian exporters.
The RCEP was reviewed by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties AFTINET's submission to the review is here. The JSCOT Report is here and AFTINET's comments are here. The government-dominated majority report acknowledged some of the flaws identified by our submissions, but still recommended in favour of the enabling legislation. Labor and the Greens made critical comments which raised many of the points in our submissions .
AFTINET re-circulated a letter signed by 13 national organisations representing millions of Australians detailing community concerns that the agreement has no commitments to human rights and labour rights, could restrict local industry development, increase the risk of exploitation of temporary migrant workers, restrict regulation of aged care services, and restrict State Government regulation of emissions from power stations. The letter asked parliamentarians to delay the vote and seek amendments to the agreement to address these issues. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) also called on parliamentarians to “oppose ratification of RCEP in its current form."
Parliament passed the enabling legislation on October 21, 2021, with the Greens and Senator Rex Patrick voting against.
The RCEP came into force on January 1, 2022, after six ASEAN and five non-ASEAN governments ratified it. They are Australia, New Zealand, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Malaysia ratified in March 2022. .Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar are expected to ratify in 2022.
See a short explainer article about RCEP text here, how the RCEP could restrict improved regulation of aged care recommended by the Royal Commission here and AFTINET's submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties here
Learn more about the key issues that arose in the eight years of RCEP:negotiations
- Access to medicines
- Corporate rights to sue governments (ISDS)
- Workers’ rights
- Essential and Public services
- Environment and food production
- Copyright, e-commerce and consumers
- Conversation article on how the RCEP could restrict improved regulation of aged care recommended by the Royal Commission (July 27, 2021)
- See AFTINET 's submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties here (April 2021)
- A preliminary human rights assessment of the RCEP in Outlook, a publication of the the Australian Institute of International Affairs, November 27, 2020.
- Dr Patricia Ranald's explainer article after the RCEP text was released on November 15, 2020
- AFTINET calls for release of RCEP text before it is signed in 2020 (November 2019)
- Dr Patricia Ranald's The Conversation article explaining why India left the RCEP negotiations (November 2019)
- Dr Patricia Ranald's The Conversation article on reports that RCEP will not include ISDS (September 2019)
- Expert study condemns secrecy as RCEP talks resume in Bangkok (20 July 2018)
- Free trade or women's rights? (11 January 2018)
- Video: Dr Pat Ranald introduces the RCEP (March 2017)
- Why are small-scale farmers protesting the RCEP? (4 March 2017)
- RCEP: copyright provisions could ‘stifle creativity' (2 March 2017)
- Time for progressive fair trade policies (Dr Patricia Ranald in the Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 25 2017)
- The hidden costs of RCEP and corporate trade deals in Asia (Report by Transnational Institute et al, 8 Dec 2016)
- MSF (Doctors without Borders) briefing on RCEP threats to affordable medicines (4 Dec 2016)
- On World AIDS Day, threat to access to medicines looms large (MSF's Shailly Gupta in the Jakarta Post, 2 Dec 2016)
- Don’t repeat the failures of the TPP in other agreements (Dr Patricia Ranald in the Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Nov 2016)
- And you thought the TPP was secret. The RCEP is even worse (The Age’s Economics Editor Peter Martin in Fairfax Media, 5 Nov 2016)
- RCEP: the trade agreement you’ve never heard of but should be concerned about (Belinda Townsend, Deborah Gleeson and Ruth Lopert, The Conversation, June 2015
- AFTINET Second Submission to DFAT on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (September 2015)
- AFTINET ubmission to the DFAT on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (April 2013)