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Friday, August 14, 2015

RCEP – the next big thing?

By Claire McMahon, Associate

We reported on 12 August and 13 August on the recent (failed) round of TPP negotiations. During the current TPP hiatus, focus has begun to turn to another 'secretive' proposed trade agreement in Asia, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Although negotiations for RCEP started in November 2012, there has been little coverage about this agreement relative to the TPP and (as yet) no leaks of texts approved or otherwise.

What is known is that the RCEP negotiations involve the ten ASEAN member states, as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. The negotiations are said to cover trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition and dispute settlement.

The RCEP allegedly arose due to China's exclusion from the TPP. Although the objectives of the RCEP and the TPP aren't mutually exclusive, initial reports suggest that the RCEP takes a very different approach to the TPP. The ASEAN nations are central to the RCEP, which suggests that this agreement will likely be more favourable to middle and lower-income nations than the TPP. The guiding principles of the agreement acknowledge the economic discrepancies between the ASEAN nations, with the RCEP aiming to promote greater regional economic integration. 

However, it remains to be seen whether or not the RCEP will satisfy these lofty objectives. A leaked South Korean proposal (not approved text) has sparked comments of unduly restrictive intellectual property protection and enforcement measures, labelled 'worse than the TPP' by some. Of course, this negative media coverage is based on the principle that strong intellectual property protection is undesirable. This ignores the fact that IP protection can stimulate innovation, can promote economic development and enhance transparency and information-sharing, irrespective of economic status. 

The ninth and most recent round of RCEP negotiations took place in Kuala Lumpur in July 2015. The deadline for the negotiations is currently the end of 2015, but reports suggest this is unlikely to be met.

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