India, Australia and New Zealand still in the RCEP despite suggestions of exclusion

July 9, 2019: Before the RCEP negotiations in Melbourne, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir was quoted in the Malay Mail saying that he would be open to suggestions from China that the RCEP could be reduced to 13 rather than 16 governments, so that the deal could be completed by the end of the year.

The negotiations  remain secret, but reportedly have slowed because China and India have not been able to reach agreement on tariffs. India has also refused to agree to proposals for stronger medicine monopolies, some of which have now reportedly been dropped. India and others are reportedly refusing proposals from Australia on services and e-commerce deregulation and from New Zealand on labour rights and the environment. The proposal for RCEP-13 would be an attempt to reduce the ‘extremes’ in the negotiations and see if agreement could be reached more easily without them.

Following the Melbourne meeting, an article in the Australian Financial Review reported that all 16 governments were still at the negotiating table, although the Australian government has not commented publicly.

Before the Melbourne meeting, 52 Australian community organisations called for release of RCEP texts  and independent evaluation of RCEP social and economic impacts before it is signed. They also condemned proposals for stronger medicine monopolies and deregulation of services, and called for fully enforceable labour rights and environmental standards.

Further negotiations are reportedly scheduled for late July to early August in China and mid-September in Vietnam, with regular Ministerial meetings to assess progress with the aim of finishing in November.