RCEP trade deal: Organisations representing millions urge Labor and cross-benchers to delay vote and support changes

August 20, 2021 Media Release

“Thirteen national organisations representing millions of Australians have written letters to Labor and cross-bench parliamentarians arguing that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal fails the human rights test and should be changed before the parliament votes on the implementing legislation,” Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convenor, said today.

The RCEP includes Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 ASEAN countries including Myanmar and the Philippines. The RCEP is being reviewed by the joint Standing Committee on Treaties which is due to report next week before parliament votes on the implementing legislation.

The organisations represent a broad cross-section of Australian society, including fair trade, faith groups, unions, public health, environment and women’s organisations. They are the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, the Australian Catholic Bishops Office of Justice Ecology and Peace, the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Australian Education Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union, Union Aid Abroad, St Columbans Missionary Society, Friends of the Earth, and The Grail in Australia women’s organisation.

The letter notes that the since Australia already has free trade agreements with all RCEP countries, there are no clear economic benefits, and there has been no independent economic assessment of its economic or social costs and benefits.

The RCEP has no commitments to uphold human rights, labour rights or environmental standards. It ignores violations of human rights and labour rights in China and the Philippines, and legitimises the brutal military regime in Myanmar when allies like the US and the European Union are cutting ties with Myanmar.

The RCEP restricts the development of local industry policies and increases the numbers of temporary migrant workers highly vulnerable to exploitation.

The RCEP also restricts the rights of governments to increase regulation of essential services, unless they are specifically excluded. Aged Care has not been specifically excluded, which could restrict the implementation of the Aged Care Royal Commission recommendations to improve staffing levels and quality of care. State regulation of power station emissions has not been excluded, which could restrict future regulation of carbon emissions.

The letter to Labor parliamentarians notes that these flaws in the RCEP are contrary to the ALP platform adopted in March 2021.

The letter calls on parliamentarians to delay the vote on the implementing legislation and to support amendments to the RCEP which would address these issues.