Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

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  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


Philippines delays RCEP ratification as NZ and Philippines seek to exclude Myanmar

February 20, 2022: After a fierce debate, prompted by farmers’ organisations, the Philippines Senate adjourned in February without endorsing the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 ASEAN countries.

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.

Civil society groups ask ASEAN for RCEP human rights assessment as Filipino farmers say RCEP will undermine incomes

December 13, 2021: A coalition of regional and national civil society groups from the ten ASEAN countries  has asked the ASEAN secretariat to conduct a human rights assessment of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement due to come into force in January 2022.

ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam

Parliament urged to monitor RCEP impact on aged care and carbon emissions, and insist on commitments to human rights and labour rights

October 19, 2021: Following today’s announcement from Madeleine King MP that Labor will support enabling legislation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), advocates have called on the Government and Opposition to publicly commit to re-examine the RCEP in the next term of Parliament amid fears that the trade deal may impede regulation for quality aged care and reduction of carbon emissions.

JSCOT Committee report on RCEP acknowledges deep flaws, but supports implementation

Media Release                          September 1, 2021

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) has released its Report 196 on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 ASEAN countries including Myanmar and the Philippines.

RCEP trade deal: Organisations representing millions urge Labor and cross-benchers to delay vote and support changes

August 20, 2021 Media Release

“Thirteen national organisations representing millions of Australians have written letters to Labor and cross-bench parliamentarians arguing that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal fails the human rights test and should be changed before the parliament votes on the implementing legislation,” Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convenor, said today.

RCEP trade deal fails on aged care

July 27, 2021: The Conversation today published a warning about the 15-state Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as the Australian parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties began its public hearings on the agreement, signed last November.

In the oped, AFTINET Convenor Dr Patricia Ranald explained that the trade-in-services chapter does not exempt Aged Care from “lock-in” of existing regulation and requires signatories to “not adversely modify existing regulation in particular services sectors”.

But the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety exposed multiple scandals caused by a lack of qualified staff and poor quality care, and recommended increases in staffing levels, increases in qualifications of staff and changes to licensing arrangements.