If the deal went ahead, RCEP would cover half the world’s population
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was dubbed ‘the biggest trade deal you have never heard of’ because it was being negotiated behind closed doors with little public information available.
Covering twelve ‘Pacific Rim’ countries, trade unions in the USA, Australia and New Zealand campaigned against the TPP trade agreement.
President Barack Obama tried to push TPP through the US Congress with a ‘fast track’ process that would have left elected politicians with no opportunity to scrutinise the deal line by line. Had Obama got the deal on the floor of Congress it would have been a ‘take it or leave it deal’.
Donald Trump, during his campaign, opposed the TPP trade agreement — after witnessing the massive opposition from trade unions and blue collar workers, hit hard by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the USA, which saw good jobs in manufacturing sucked south to free trade, low tax areas of Mexico. As president he quickly sunk the deal.
Trump also promised to ‘tear up’ NAFTA and renegotiate it. Current reports say he intends to ‘tinker round the edges’ of the deal rather than a wholesale re-negotiation.
But despite the TPP’s demise, global corporations and neoliberal governments seem intent on reviving trade deals that are bad for workers, bad for jobs and great for global corporations.
The European Union is currently rushing to negotiate a trade deal with Japan known as JEFTA.
Talks have been going on secretly since March 2013 with the EU intent on pushing ahead to get a deal signed by the end of the year – despite misgivings in Japan.
Now it appears the next in line is another mega-trade deal — bigger and more secretive than before — the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
RCEP has been described as China’s answer to the TPP, involving all ten ASEAN (Association of South Eastern Nations) countries — Brunei; Cambodia; Indonesia; Laos; Malaysia; Myanmar; Phillipines; Singapore; Thailand; Vietnam plus candidate countries Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. It also incorporates ASEAN Plus Three — China, Japan and South Korea, and India, Australia and New Zealand.
Negotiations are now in their fourth year and the aim is also to finalise the agreement by the end of 2017.
If the deal goes ahead, the RCEP would cover half the world’s population. Because of the secrecy little is known about the RCEP text.
But leaked documents show that the failed TPP is the basis for RCEP.
Some of the most controversial clauses of the TPP are proposed in RCEP, including the rights for corporations to sue governments though secret ISDS courts and the extension of monopoly rights for pharmaceutical companies to charge higher prices for medicines.
Reports suggest that RCEP could also increase the numbers of temporary migrant workers, vunerable to exploitation — without testing or providing support for the local and national labour market.
These clauses come straight from TPP and have little to do with free trade. It’s all about extending corporate power at the expense of working people.
But it appears that India and some ASEAN countries are resisting the worst of these clauses.
Andrew Dettmer, the National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, commenting on RCEP said:
“The secrecy surrounding TPP has been reproduced around the RCEP. From Obama’s pivot into Asia, we now have China’s attempt to dominate trade throughout the Asian region. We had become used to the farcical approach to public consultation under the TPP. Now, with the RCEP, the 20 or so minutes dedicated to it by the Australian government seem like a luxury by comparison.
“RCEP has the same ISDS provisions. Even worse the minimal labour rights provisions under TPP appear to be even more watered down in RCEP.
“We had the benefit of Wikileaks last time around with the TPP. Now, without any further information, the likelihood is that RCEP will be agreed and implemented before any substantial public scrutiny is possible.
“And we know workers’ interests will be a long way down any consideration by governments in our region.”
Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturingSign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.