RCEP fails Labour rights and Human Rights tests

November 30, 2020: Australian Outlook, the journal of the Australian Institute for International Affairs, last week published an initial human rights evaluation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership RCEP trade agreement by AFTINET Convenor, Dr Patricia Ranald.

Dr Ranald acknowledged that expanded trade can create jobs and improve peoples’ lives. All trade deals have both winners and losers because they reduce tariffs and other trade barriers, intensify competition, and result in job losses in some industries, she argued. “Other trade barriers” also include many areas of social regulation. The devil is in the detail, and the costs and benefits of the RCEP and other agreements need to be evaluated based on their impacts on human rights, labour rights, and environmental sustainability.

The article argues that the RCEP fails these tests because it has no commitments to internationally-agreed labour rights and environmental standards. RCEP rules could also limit local industry development needed for the post-pandemic economic recovery. It locks in increased foreign investment in essential services and freezes regulation of most services at current levels. These rules suit the needs of international investors, but limit the ability of governments to respond to future crises like the pandemic and climate change.