Women’s rights advocates warn of RCEP risks

November 20, 2019: Kate Lappin, Asia Pacific Regional Secretary of Public Services International, and Michelle Higelin, Executive Director of ActionAid Australia, have warned of the danger that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement (RECP) poses to the 1.1 billion women living in RCEP member countries, arguing that “a gender equitable trade policy is possible. But it would look nothing like the RCEP.”

Earlier this month 15 RCEP governments, including Australia, announced the conclusion of text-based negotiations for the RCEP and committed to signing the agreement in early 2020. However, the announcement was marred by India’s withdrawal from the deal.

Lappin and Higelin suggest that Indian women may benefit most from India’s decision to withdraw from the agreement because “we know from experience that free trade agreements, like the RCEP, increase inequalities and make life even worse for women in low-income countries.”

They argue that trade agreements like the RCEP that are “designed to do one thing – make it easier for foreign corporations to invest and profit.” Further, they suggest that this corporate profit comes at the expense of women across the region, arguing that RCEP could result in worsening working conditions for female workers.

Lappin and Higelin also point to the opening up of public services to foreign investment, which can increase the cost of essential services, reducing women’s access to vital services like water, electricity, health and education.

They also criticise the encroachment of trade agreements on domestic regulation, suggesting that “provisions that stop new regulations on investors being introduced and progressively reduce existing regulations” can prevent governments from implementing regulation that is necessary to achieve gender equality.