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 have been 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 ddetailing 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 the 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