bilaterals.org logo
bilaterals.org logo

RCEP

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a “mega-regional” trade agreement that was signed in November 2020. It had been negotiated since 2012 between the 10 ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) governments and their six FTA partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. But in November 2019, India decided not to join the treaty. The eight years of RCEP negotiations were shrouded in secrecy. Social movements could only rely on leaks to analyse the proposed agreement.

RCEP is largely driven by ASEAN. Indeed, the project originated in, and expands upon, the stitching together of five existing ASEAN+1 trade agreements that ASEAN signed with Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand. The stated goal of the negotiations was to “boost economic growth and equitable economic development, advance economic cooperation and broaden and deepen integration in the region through the RCEP,” according to the ASEAN website. RCEP covers almost every aspect of economy such as goods, services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property rights (IPR), rules of origin, competition and dispute settlement.

Throughout the negotiations, concerns about the RCEP were voiced in a number of contexts and concern a range of issues. A 2015 leaked text on intellectual property rights proposed by Japan’s negotiators confirmed concerns that the deal could go beyond the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Various movements and organisations, including environmental groups, trade unions, domestic workers, farmers, hawkers, women groups, and people living with HIV have raised their concerns throughout the negotiations and the current ratification process. Thousands of people marched against the trade deal’s harmful provisions, demanding transparency from governments, in Hyderabad, India, in July 2017, and organised a People’s Convention on RCEP.

In 2019, public pressure forced India to pull out of the negotiations. Several harmful provisions were dropped too, such as the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which allows corporations to sue states before arbitration courts over lost expected profits, and mandatory UPOV91 membership. UPOV is a specialised system of seed patenting, which makes it illegal – in fact, a criminal offence — for farmers to save and reuse protected seeds.

The final text shows that there are no increases in patent monopolies for medicines above the WTO standard of 20 years, advocated by pharmaceutical companies and pushed by Japan and South Korea early in the negotiations, which could have delayed the availability of generic forms of medicines, especially in low income countries, and would have been very damaging in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The electronic commerce chapter left out some of the most dire rules pushed by Big Tech, and present in other trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and is not enforceable.

However the RCEP will worsen the balance of trade of almost all of its member countries, especially ‘developing’ and ‘less developed’ countries, according to a UNCTAD assessment. This can potentially increase the pressure to privatise essential public services, all the more so since such services are, under the deal, governed by international “trade rules” that suit corporations and limit states’ ability to regulate them in the public interest. The same rules that remove barriers to foreign investment can also apply to the agriculture sector, and increase the trend of land grabbing.

A joint statement by seven trade union federations in the Asia-Pacific said that the RCEP would result in the deterioration of working conditions in a race to the bottom under heightened competition, in which migrant workers face the worst consequences. They added that: “instead of furthering a free trade project, countries should be collaborating on reviving their economies and expanding public goods.”

China, Singapore and Thailand were the first countries to ratify the agreement at the beginning of 2021. In order to enter into force, RCEP needs to be ratified by six ASEAN countries and three non-ASEAN countries.

See the full text here

Last update: April 2021 / Photo: bilaterals.org



China-backed RCEP trade deal unlikely to benefit developing members in short term, analysts say
The Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) is unlikely to bring immediate significant benefits for its developing member countries in terms of flow of goods and services or major infrastructure investments, analysts and economists said.
Thai Parliament approves Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
The parliament approved the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which was expected to take effect this year, said Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit.
Regional trade pact will pave way for digital yuan
The RCEP will undoubtedly pave the way for China’s new digital yuan expansion throughout Asia.
RCEP going to parliament, instant enforcement likely
The Commerce Ministry is scheduled to propose to parliament on Tuesday the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact, the world’s biggest free trade deal, signed by 15 nations in Asia-Pacific including Thailand last November.
Unsustainable RCEP
If the latest flare ups over the contentious territorial issues and popular anti-China sentiments in the region are anything to go by, it seems likely that uncertainty over domestic ratification of the RCEP agreement by the signatory states would persist in the days ahead.
Brunei to host the RCEP Interim Joint Committee meeting
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Interim Joint Committee is to hold a virtual meeting on 30 January 2021 and will be the first joint committee meeting since the formal signing of the RCEP agreement.
RCEP seen highlighting PHL manufacturing weakness
A recently signed 15-country trade deal may not significantly benefit the Philippine economy and instead expose its lack of competitiveness in manufacturing, a senior equities research executive for Regis Partners said.
China to greenlight RCEP in six months
China will complete the necessary domestic approval procedures for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement within six months, the Ministry of Commerce said.
RCEP: an unjust deal and added burden in the time of a pandemic
RCEP will only deepen inequalities that already exist and were exacerbated further by the pandemic. It will further undermine the livelihoods of farmers, fishers, indigenous peoples and rural women, and threaten jobs for workers.
Asia’s historic trade pact to open oil-supply route to China
South Korea and Japan look set to be the biggest winners in the Asian oil and chemicals marketplace as the world’s largest regional free-trade agreement paves the way for a gradual reduction in tariffs.