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RCEP

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a so-called mega-regional economic agreement being 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.

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 is 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. From what is known of the agreement’s contents, the proposed RCEP would cover 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.

The negotiations have missed several deadlines repeatedly, even though they have gained momentum since 2016.

Concerns about the RCEP have been voiced in a number of contexts and cover 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 rules agreed to at the World Trade Organisation, known as the Trade Related Aspects of IPRs (TRIPS) agreement.

Various movements, including environmental groups, trade unions, domestic workers, farmers, hawkers, and people living with HIV have been raising their concerns over the trade deal since the text got leaked. Thousands of them marched against the harmful provisions in the trade deal, demanding transparency from governments, in Hyderabad, India, in July 2017 and organised a People’s Convention on RCEP.

The 2015 leaks also show that Japan and South Korea want to get all Asian countries into UPOV, the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties, under the terms of its 1991 convention. UPOV is a specialised system of seed patenting, which makes it illegal – indeed, a criminal offense — for farmers to save and reuse patented seeds. This has huge implications for food security and farmers’ rights in the region.

The implications for access to medicines are even more alarming. Japan and South Korea are channeling demands by big pharma for longer patent terms and for monopoly rights over clinical trial data. These provisions could undermine access to price-lowering generic medicines, and thus, life-saving treatment for millions of people in the developing world.

On copyright and digital rights, groups say the deal could be “even worse than TPP or ACTA”, referring to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that was stopped due to public pressure. On services and other chapters as well, the RCEP appears to overlap and compete with the higher-profile TPP agreement which has been signed by 11 Pacific Rim countries. (Seven of the states negotiating RCEP are TPP members.)

To date, no official text has been made public, even though the agreement would affect several billion people. This continues to fuel concerns. In fact, civil society groups were completely shut out of the 22nd negotiation round in Singapore in March 2018 while transnational corporations were invited for a business dialogue.

Last update: June 2018 / Photo: Siddharth Singh



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The fifth round of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks is set to commence in June, barely two months after the last round, a sign that the efforts by 16 Asian countries to create the world’s biggest free trade area are gaining momentum.
FTA talks open in Malaysia
Officials from 16 economies in Asia and Oceania gathered in Kuala Lumpur on Monday to start a third round of negotiations on establishing a regional free trade agreement (RCEP).
Asia-Pacific countries hold talks on free trade deal
Sixteen Asia-Pacific countries started substantive discussions on a proposed regional free trade agreement (RCEP) at a four-day working-level meeting in Brisbane, Australia.
Economic ministers agree to establish Asean+6 FTA by 2015
The 16 economic ministers of Asean+6 have agreed to finalise the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership by 2015, when the Asean Economic Community takes full effect.
Asean, 6 trading partners eyeing more tariff cuts under new Asia-Pacific FTA
Asean and its six free trade agreement partners are eyeing more tariff cuts under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with duties on vehicles possibly to be a "hot topic" in the negotiations, Philippine Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo said yesterday.
RCEP is not a bloc to compete with TPP, says Mustapa
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is not a bloc to compete with the ongoing negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Malaysia’s International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said today.
India becomes part of regional trading bloc despite Chinese opposition
India overcame resistance from China to become a part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, an Asean + 6 grouping which is set to emerge as one of the most significant free trading blocs in the world, government sources confirmed.
Will Asia’s largest FTA make a difference?
Unless there is enough political will to close potential loopholes disguised as “flexibility” and pursue reforms deeper than those ever before attempted, RCEP may be seen as serving the geopolitical interests of a few players, to little economic effect.
Date set for talks on Asia-Pacific free trade zone
China and 15 other Asia-Pacific nations have agreed to launch a first round of talks next month aimed at creating one of the world’s largest trading blocs. China is trying to outpace a similar effort by the US.
Talks on ASEAN+6 trade bloc to kick off in May
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) together with the group’s six major trading partners are slated to begin in May the first round of negotiations to form the world’s largest economic bloc by 2015.