AFTINET - 05 November 2019
Giant RCEP regional trade deal text without India must be released and evaluated before signing says AFTINET
“India’s departure from the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) announced yesterday in Bangkok is not only caused by India’s resistance to lower tariffs. There is a hidden agenda of non-tariff issues that could restrict future government regulation by giving more rights to global corporations, “AFTINET Convener Dr Patricia Ranald said today.
India’s absence severely diminishes the market access gains for Australia because Australia already has a free trade agreement with the 10 ASEAN countries, and has bilateral free trade agreements with all of the other countries. India would have been the main area of additional market access for Australian agricultural and other exports.
“As usual, the texts being discussed are secret, and the final text will not be revealed until after the deal is signed in early 2020. This secrecy favours corporate players, which have the most resources to lobby governments,” said Dr Ranald.
“Leaked documents have revealed that the industrialised countries, including Japan, South Korea and Australia have been pushing non-tariff rules that suit their major corporations. These include foreign investor rights to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in international tribunals if they can argue that a change in law or policy will harm their investment, known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. Australians learnt the cost of ISDS when the Philip Morris tobacco company sued our government for compensation over our plain packaging law,” said Dr Ranald.
Most of the 983 known ISDS cases have been taken against developing countries, but increasing numbers are against health, environment, indigenous land rights, labour laws and other public interest regulation in both developing and industrialised countries,” explained Dr Ranald.
“RCEP members India and Indonesia have policies to exclude or severely restrict investor rights in new agreements. ISDS has been reportedly excluded from the RCEP text but we won’t know for sure until the text is released after signing, “ said Dr Ranald.
“Even more contentious are proposals that pharmaceutical companies should be given longer patent monopolies on medicines than the current 20 years, which would delay the availability of cheaper medicines, at greatest cost to developing countries,” said Dr Ranald.
“Without India, claimed market access gains are marginal for Australia and must be evaluated against the risks and costs of expanded corporate rights and restraints on future government regulation. We call for the text of the RCEP to be released before signing and for an independent evaluation of its costs and benefits for Australia,” said Dr Ranald.