Like other mega regional trade agreements, RCEP negotiations are far-reaching. Yet this report finds that the RCEP negotiations are being conducted almost completely in secret, with limited to no meaningful public participation.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is currently being negotiated between 16 countries in the Asia and Pacific regions, including trade and investment liberalisation, Intellectual Property Rights, services, competition policy and e-commerce. RCEP will impact on the lives of billions of people, from the quality of the food we eat to the energy we consume and the affordability of life-saving medicines.
However, most elected officials have, at best, limited access to the negotiating texts, which remain out of reach for civil society. Ad hoc or token stakeholder consultations are far from sufficient to make the process transparent or participatory. Meanwhile, big business lobby groups have a semi-official inside role in the RCEP talks, with privileged access and undue influence over many individual countries’ policy making processes.
Governments in the RCEP bloc have argued that secrecy in the process is inevitable, as the trade deal is a matter of international relations. Yet as the negotiations will impact people’s jobs, domestic regulations and healthcare, citizens have a right to know how the deal is being negotiated, who is influencing it, and what is being put on the table. What’s more, there are several examples of international negotiations that provide a greater degree of transparency (including the disclosure of negotiating documents) and openness to civil society than the RCEP negotiations.
The precedents set by the UNFCCC, WIPO and IGWG show that the supposed inevitability of secrecy in international negotiations like RCEP is nothing more than a political smokescreen. Even the World Trade Organisation and Free Trade Agreements by the European Union seek to publish most negotiating texts, and reports by committee chairs are available on their websites. The lack of transparency in the RCEP talks threatens to undermine democratic rights in the region, and facilitates the corporate capture of the process of regional economic integration. This contravenes the ASEAN charter, which promises to adhere “to principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.”