RCEP in force from January 1, but fails on human rights

January 10, 2022: Following ratification by the Australian and other governments, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) came into force on January 1, 2022. Negotiations began in 2012 between sixteen countries, but India withdrew in 2019. Six ASEAN and five non-ASEAN governments have ratified. They are Australia, New Zealand,, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia Laos, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines have not yet ratified the RCEP.

News about the RCEP’s implementation only reported tariff reductions and common customs standards. However the government has acknowledged that the RCEP provides no additional market access for Australian exports because Australia already has free trade agreements with all RCEP members. There has been no independent assessment of the economic, environmental, health or gender impacts of the RCEP. The RCEP has hidden traps.

Although community campaigning excluded some of the worst proposals like investor rights to sue governments from the agreement,  the RCEP fails the human rights test. The RCEP has no commitments for governments to meet any human rights or labour standards, despite the military coup in Myanmar, and violations of these standards in countries like China and the Philippines. The RCEP could also 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.

AFTINET asked Australian parliamentarians to delay ratification and seek amendments to the agreement to address these issues. We will monitor the implementation of the RCEP and seek changes at the review which is scheduled in two years.

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