RCEP impact on Developing Countries – regional webinar

November 18, 2020: Just a few days prior to the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), economic experts, business owners, civil society organisations and parliamentarians expressed their concerns about its impact on developing countries in a regional webinar.

The webinar was organised by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development (APWLD), Public Services International (PSI), and Indonesia for Global Justice (IDJ).

UNCTAD Senior Economist Rashmi Banga presented analysis showing that for most ASEAN countries imports post-RCEP will rise more than their exports, leading to worsening of their balance of trade with respect to other RCEP members. “ASEAN countries can only benefit from RCEP if they can really use the potential on Regional Value Chains which should link with the Global Value Chains. But mostly in regional cooperation, such as RCEP, most ASEAN countries will lose the preferential access, and that access will go to more efficient producers and exporters, but how many countries in ASEAN can really compete with China?”, she added.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Assistant Director General for Economic and Social Development in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, explained that the disruption of economies is not only due to COVID-19 but also the undermining of cooperative multilateral forums like the WHO which affects most countries. “If we are serious about trade, especially in this difficult time, we should rethink how you can reconfigure the world and develop new capacities of our own economies, including much more consistent with sustainable development objectives and more egalitarian ways”.

Kate Lappin, Asia Pacific Regional Secretary for the global federation of workers in public services, Public Services International, stressed that “FTAs such as RCEP would also increase the pressure on governments to privatise, as public services need to be traded and compete on the market. This will have negative impacts on equality, including corrosive impacts on gender equality”.

She noted that governments during the COVID-19 pandemic had taken emergency measures which breach the trade rules in RCEP and other free trade deals. Further, she said that free trade rules shift the weight of who has power in the economy away from workers and into the hands of global corporations. “In fact, by constraining the policy space of future governments, deals like this are constraining the potential for future pro-worker governments to alter the economic rules,” she concluded.

Jayen Mehta, Senior General Manager, Amul Milk Cooperative, India, explained how signing the RCEP could have led to loss of livelihood for 50 million rural milk producers and about US$40 billion in revenue loss yearly to farmers. “A grassroots movement led by millions of milk producers and farmers in India including nationwide protests forced India to withdraw from RCEP negotiations”, he stressed.