The lesson from the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) should have been that it is time to re-think this type of so-called trade agreement. But despite warnings from internationally-recognised experts, there are more secretive “trade” negotiations happening this week, and the risks are huge.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is being negotiated in Jakarta, Indonesia on December 2-10. If signed, RCEP would grant foreign corporations the right to bypass Parliament and domestic legal systems and sue governments at international tribunals whenever they feel government regulation can limit their profits.
RCEP would include over 50% of the world’s population and includes China, members of ASEAN, Australia, South Korea, Japan, India and New Zealand. New Zealand already has treaties with a number of these countries, but there are potential gains from improved access for our exports to India and Japan.
Unfortunately, New Zealand is putting these gains at risk by pushing for TPPA-style provisions in the RCEP that would benefit a few multinational companies but create serious risks for governments, citizens and the environment.
New research by leading NGOs and researchers reveals that foreign investors have launched 50 lawsuits at secret international arbitration tribunals against governments negotiating the RCEP agreement for at least $31 billion US dollars.
These lawsuits could lead to a drain on public budgets of millions of dollars and undermine governments’ right to regulate in the public interest. Environment-related laws and sectors account for 36% of cases against governments that have been recorded.
There is growing opposition to far-reaching investment protection across the Asian region and globally. This week, 316 civil society organisations presented a joint letter to RCEP governments urging them to exclude investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions from the deal and demanding instead a new trade model that helps to develop sustainable societies, by supporting local economies, workers’ rights, and food sovereignty.
RCEP is a re-run of the TPPA fiasco. It should no longer be acceptable to negotiate in secrecy.
It is time for Todd McClay, New Zealand’s Minister for Trade, to reveal what is really happening in these negotiations and to be accountable for New Zealand’s position.