Even as the five-day long 6th round of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations has begun in Greater Noida, the civil society organisations have expressed serious concern over the very idea of free trade agreement (FTA), lack of transparency and the absence of socio-economic impact assessments to assess the impact of the proposed FTA.
RCEP is an FTA involving 16 countries including 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and its free trading partners including Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand.
In a letter to Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the civil society groups demanded to immediately halt India’s engagement in all FTAs including RCEP negotiations and to make public all RCEP documents. They also urged the government to hold public consultations with all stakeholders who will be directly affected by RCEP including farmers’ organisations, trade unions, patient groups, generic industry, SMEs and civil society organisations.
The letter highlighted that seven of the key RCEP members including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam are currently negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) with countries like United States and Canada. Further, deeper liberalisation beyond existing FTAs through RCEP will jeopardise the government’s efforts to revive manufacturing sector, deeply affect agriculture and production of access to affordable medicines.
The governments like Japan and Australia are pushing for ‘TRIPS Plus’ provisions in RCEP negotiations. Such a strict intellectual property regime will restrict generic manufacturing of medicines at affordable prices, adversely affect public health objectives and increase cost of treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS and many other life threatening diseases, said Gopakumar of Third World Network (TWN).
The letter further said that the leaked draft of intellectual property text of TPP negotiations exposed that those governments are negotiating to provide unprecedented standards of protection for patents including for medicines. As RCEP is being negotiated by some of the same governments, we are concerned that ‘TRIPS-plus’ provisions including data exclusivity, evergreening, patent term extension, plant variety protection and more extensive geographical indications will be part of RCEP negotiations. Further, we note that that the Japanese non paper circulated in the previous round of RCEP negotiation contains TRIPS Plus provisions.
Such a strict intellectual property regime will only protect monopoly of big pharmaceutical companies while restricting generic manufacturing of medicines at affordable prices. Further ‘TRIPS-plus’ provisions will adversely affect farmers’ rights (and raise costs), civil liberties and would harm consumer rights with respect to digital goods, the letter to Commerce Minister said.
The NGOs also expressed concern that the RCEP negotiations include issues that affect every aspect of the Indian economy and its people, such as goods, services, investment, economic & technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition and dispute settlement. Apparently the negotiation process also includes flexibility to include new areas.