The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a so-called mega-regional economic agreement being negotiated 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.
The RCEP agreement is largely driven by ASEAN. Indeed, the RCEP originated in, and expands upon, the stitching together of five existing ASEAN+1 agreements, that brought ASEAN together 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 and competition and dispute settlement.
The ninth negotiating round took place in Nay Pyi Taw, Burma, in August 2015. An earlier intention of concluding the talks by the end of 2015 has now been overtaken by a vaguer deadline.
Concerns about the RCEP have been voiced in a number of contexts and cover a range of issues. As with many negotiations, they have been conducted with a high degree of secrecy. A 2015 leaked text on intellectual property rights (IPR) proposed by Japan’s negotiators (and apparently supported by South Korea) confirms the concern that the proposed RCEP IPR provisions resemble the TRIPs-plus provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Patient groups including the Delhi Network of Positive People and the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition-South Asia have held rallies outside the Embassy of Japan in New Delhi to protest the risks that the RCEP poses to access to medicines.
The 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.
On copyright and digital rights, the deal could be “even worse than TPP or ACTA”, groups say.
The RCEP appears to overlap and compete with the higher-profile TPP agreement which has become heavily influenced by the US’ economic and geopolitical agenda in the Asia-Pacific. (7 of RCEP’s member governments belong to the TPP.) Additionally, China has recently decided to champion the Free Trade Area for the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), an old US-initiated proposal to have a single free trade agreement covering all APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) member states. So the competition and overlap are between the three deals: RCEP, TPP and FTAAP.
Last update: August 2015 / Photo: Siddharth Singh