Giant RCEP trade deal to be signed without India, Sunday November 15, no labour rights or environmental standards

November 12, 2020: The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal between Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and the ten ASEAN countries* will be signed online at the ASEAN Summit on Sunday, with much fanfare from governments about its size and potential economic benefits.

But India left the negotiations in November last year, which means the agreement is worth less to Australia, since Australia already has bilateral or regional free trade agreements with all the other RCEP countries.

The text will only be released after signing, but we know from leaked texts and government summaries that there are no commitments to labour rights or environmental standards, and the text has not been revised in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AFTINET will issue a media release on Sunday and more detailed analysis of the text in coming weeks.

Some points of concern are:

  • No independent analysis of the economic impacts for Australia, especially given India's departure
  • No commitments to internationally recognised labour rights or environmental standards, with the danger of a race to the bottom on these standards
  • Does the text take into account the context of the pandemic, dependence on global production chains and the need to develop local industry capacity to manufacture essential medical equipment, medicines and vaccines?
  • If the main benefits are from common regulatory frameworks that suit global corporations, these may restrict the ability of governments to regulate in the public interest.

*ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.