Tag Archive for: regional comprehensive economic partnership

Cross-regional mega-FTAs are now being preferred over bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements as imperialist powers compete for cheap labor, sources of raw materials, and markets. Workers of the South are set to bear much of the brunt of this shift, as new sets of trade rules would further permit monopoly capitalists to dictate the cheapest value of labor and other production facilities, and disregard decent standards, to accumulate bigger profit.

Download EILER’s briefer “Mega-FTAs and its implications on Asian Workers” written by Rochel Porras and Otto de Vries to read more on the potential impacts of RCEP and other mega-FTAs on the region’s labor sector. Get a copy here.

After 22 negotiation rounds and several missed deadlines, the 10 ASEAN countries and their 6 free trade partners will meet again in July 2018 to try and move forward the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

While India’s hard stance on certain issues like tariff reduction has been a big factor in slowing down the past negotiations, it is unlikely that it will withdraw from the pact, and reject new trade rules that will be detrimental to its people, including giving up its role as Asia’s pharmacy of affordable, generic life-saving drugs.

In this paper, Ajay Kumar Jha of the Center for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society discusses the possible impacts of RCEP on the people and livelihood of India.

Download the briefer here.

More than 80 representatives from trade unions, peasant communities, indigenous peoples, health networks, and women’s organisations met on 27-28 July in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to strategize around how to defeat the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and other emerging mega-regional free trade agreements (FTAs) in the region.

The RCEP is considered one of the largest trade deals in the world covering half of the world’s population and almost 40% of the global economy. It is set to be finalized by 2017 and is currently being negotiated among 16 member states including all 10 ASEAN countries and 6 of its major trading partners (China, India, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea).

‘Beyond Investment Protection’

With negotiations held in secret, the little that is publicly known about the RCEP comes from recent draft texts. “While corporate lobbies are invited to advise government officials, ordinary citizens who will live with the consequences have no say whatsoever,” said Jane Kelsey, Professor of Law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

The leaked texts reveal that RCEP deals with more than just trade – a large portion of the agreement is designed to give rich countries and their corporations the power to delve into non-trade issues such as investment and intellectual property while diminishing the right of states to regulate in the name of public interest. “These so-called ‘investment protection measures’ in RCEP and other FTAs in the offing are already beyond mere protection of investor interests. It is increasingly becoming deliberate attacks on people’s rights and sovereignty driven by the capitalist thirst for profit and control,” said Marjorie Pamintuan, General Secretary of the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN).

Included in the RCEP investment chapter are provisions on the notorious Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – an investor-state arbitration system that allows corporations to sue states over actions detrimental to expected future profits. Currently, there are 696 known ISDS cases filed by corporations against 107 countries and the numbers are rapidly increasing. These cases broadly interpret investor rights to the extent that corporations can easily challenge state policies that are meant to protect public welfare, including providing a living wage, implementing agrarian reform, ensuring health and safety of the public from hazards, sound environmental policies, and so on.

Peoples Rights under Attack

The currently negotiated RCEP will impact 3.5 billion people including those in least developed countries and its most vulnerable sectors. “The RCEP favors rich countries and their corporations, not peasants and the poor. RCEP will facilitate intensified land grabbing and allow corporate monopoly control over seeds further depriving peasants and small farmers their right to land and food security,” said Rhoda Gueta of the Asian Peasant Coalition.

Based on the leaked chapter on intellectual property rights, Japan and Korea are pushing for RCEP member countries to join the UPOV 1991 (International Convention for the Protection of new Varieties of Plants). The UPOV 1991 is a set of common standards that impose rules on how countries should implement plant variety protection – a scheme that favors seed companies at the expense of farmer’s rights to seed. Another proposal aims to criminalize seed saving by imposing criminal sanctions for carrying seeds across borders without due authorization from patent rights holders.

The leaked chapter on IP also reveals that South Korea and Japan are pushing for provisions on data exclusivity and extended patent rights that would allow big pharmaceutical companies to monopolize the drug market and keep charging high prices without generic competition. This becomes a grave concern for the region especially with India being the world’s largest producer of cheap, life-saving medicines. Once RCEP is enforced, access to affordable medicines for the world’s poorest people will be seriously compromised.

RCEP vs TPP?

During the strategy meeting, participants discussed the implications of RCEP on people’s rights as well as how it differs from other mega –FTAs such as the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). “ASEAN is pushing the corporate agenda through RCEP. Countries part of the TPP are using RCEP to push US-designed ‘WTO-plus’ provisions onto the remaining RCEP members which will only perpetuate inequalities,” said Joan Salvador from GABRIELA, a national alliance of women in the Philippines.

While RCEP is largely considered as a ‘subtler’ version of the TPP by providing lesser demands for liberalization, the China-led trade deal contains intellectual property provisions that are even worse than the TPP and the WTO by extending patent rights beyond domestic laws and international norms.

“The RCEP and the TPP are both extensions of the WTO framework – designed to concentrate wealth at the hands of global corporate elites,” said Beverly Longid from the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL). “Neither the US-led TPP nor the China-led RCEP will address the long-standing demand for an international trading system that responds to people’s needs,” she added.###

With the lackluster performance of the WTO negotiations in the past years, monopoly capital has renewed its focus on bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs). This reorientation aims to push contentious issues that would otherwise not be possible to advance within the context of a multilateral trade regime such as the WTO. This strategy is increasingly being felt across Asia Pacific with the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and now the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is recently gaining steam. Both agreements if passed and ratified will threaten the basic rights and freedoms of peoples in the region. These two trade agreements also represent the heightening rivalry between the US-led TPP and the Beijing-led RCEP over who sets the standards of trade in the region. However, it must be made clear that in this tug of war, the real concern for the people is not about which side should win. Neither the TPP nor the RCEP, neither the US nor China and their corporations will ever address the long-standing people’s aspiration for an international trading system that responds to their needs.

The recent conclusion of the TPP deal mounted enormous pressure on RCEP negotiators to speed up talks and reach an agreement by the end of 2016[1]. While recent delays in the conclusion of the negotiations indicate that the 2016 deadline would most likely be missed[2], the urgency to resist this trade deal and its potential threat on people’s rights nevertheless remains.

RCEP coverDOWNLOAD THE BRIEFER HERE: RCEP BRIEFER 

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega-regional trade deal that covers half of the world’s population, 38% of the world economy and nearly 30% of the world’s trade volume. The 16-nation RCEP negotiations formally began in 2013 comprised of the 10 ASEAN Member states at its core along with 6 of its major trading partners (China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India).With the rapid growth of China, India and Indonesia’s economies however, the combined GDP of RCEP member countries can potentially amount to double the size of TPP economies by 2050.

Often referred to as a “trade” pact, the RCEP deals with more than just trade – a large portion of the agreement will give rich countries and their corporations power to delve into non-trade issues that have far-reaching implications across sectors and communities. Covering half of the world’s population and containing provisions that are even worse than the TPP and the WTO, the impact of this mammoth trade deal on the environment, labor, agriculture, investment, intellectual property, etc. will be nothing like we’ve ever seen before.

APRN_RCEP Infographic