RCEP signing expected November 14

October 13, 2020: The 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will hold its 10th Ministerial Meeting on the sidelines of the 37th ASEAN Summit, scheduled for November 11-15, 2020, hosted online by Viet Nam. The reported date for signing the RCEP is November 14. RCEP negotiations began in 2012, and India decided to withdraw in November 2019.

AFTINET will analyse the text when it is released after the signing, and develop submissions to the JSCOT parliamentary inquiry, which is likely to report in February/March 2021.

As usual, the text has remained secret, apart from leaks of the Investment chapter (October 2015), Temporary Safeguard Measures, Competition, and Trade-in-Services (December 2016) and the e-commerce chapter (February 2020).

The RCEP includes the ten ASEAN nations – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam – plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Key points are:

  • the text will only be released after signing.
  • the text has not been reviewed in the light of trade issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, like over-dependence on imports and the need for local industry development to produce essential health equipment, medicines and other products.
  • while there appears from the DFAT website summary to be no extension of medicine patents and no Investor-State Dispute Settlement for two years, there may be other issues that could affect the availability of medicines
  • ISDS may be reconsidered after two years.
  • some developing countries may be required to sign the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) agreement which introduces patentability of seeds and plants, which will damage small farmers who use their own seeds
  • the trade-in-services chapter could enable more privatisation and contracting out of public services.
  • no protections for labour rights, and no commitments on environmental sustainability, including on carbon emission reductions
  • Uncertainty about provisions on government procurement
  • no independent analysis of the economic impacts of the RCEP, but its economic value is less without India, as Australia already has FTAs with all the other RCEP countries.