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Trade unions express concern over RCEP

23 November, 2020In a joint statement the global unions in Asia Pacific, including IndustriALL, categorically condemn the decision to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), underlining that RCEP is threatening to deepen inequalities and increase the economic and political power of capital at the expense of workers and society at large.

The RCEP, mega regional trade agreement encompassing fifteen countries, signed after eight years on 15 November further deepens the market liberalization commitments of countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The RCEP includes 20 chapters covering areas of trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property, digital trade, competition, government procurement and other areas.

Unions have expressed concerns over the lack of democratic process and the secrecy surrounding the RCEP negotiations. Governments did not provide space for social dialogue with workers organizations, there was no adequate opportunity for public debate on the implications of RCEP, as negotiating texts were only released after the agreement was signed on 15 November.

The RCEP lacks provisions to safeguard workers’ rights, labour and environmental standards, which unions have been demanding all along. The governments can no longer ignore the progressive erosion of labour standards in the RCEP countries. With deeper liberalization commitments paving the way for further integration of global value chains in the region, labour intensive sectors in some developing countries will witness a race to the bottom with negative employment consequences.  

Andrew Dettmer, national president Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), said:

“The need for strengthening manufacturing capacity, particularly of medical products, is underlined by the Covid-19 pandemic. We are witnessing rising unemployment, a social protection crisis and the hollowing out of the manufacturing sector, facilitated by the free trade agreements. It is not acceptable that the RCEP takes away the policy space to regulate multinational corporations now and in future.”

Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, said:

“We are deeply concerned that the RCEP is silent on labour and environmental standards, and includes countries which have not ratified ILO core conventions and have some of the worst labour and human rights records in the region. As people in RCEP countries are grappling with the economic and social implications of Covid-19 pandemic, it is not prudent to proceed with the agreement which may undermine countries ability to address multiple crises on social, economic and health fronts.

“IndustriALL joins the other global unions in condemning the agreement. In its present form, the RCEP is far from inclusive development, job creation and inclusive rules-based trade system.”

The government of India left the RCEP in 2019, stating that the agreement was not in the interests of people of India. The RCEP countries keep the option open for India to join the agreement.

RCEP countries account for one third of global GDP and the same amount of world population.