RCEP deal set to trade away women’s rights 

Global women’s rights organisation, ActionAid is calling on the Australian Government to reject the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (the ‘RCEP’), amid reports that the deal will be signed behind closed doors at the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on Sunday 15 November.


RCEP is a trade deal between Australia and 14 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, who together account for almost 30 per cent of the global population. The agreement is set to benefit corporations at the expense of women in low-income countries, who already face major setbacks due to COVID-19.

Katherine Tu, Head of Policy and Campaigns at ActionAid Australia said: “COVID-19 is already setting poverty and gender equality back decades, with the economic fallout leaving millions of women jobless and destitute due to the lack of protection in existing trading arrangements.

“The signing of the RCEP by Australia and other Asia-Pacific nations is unacceptable. The current economic model is clearly failing the world’s women and exploiting their labour.  This deal will only make life for many women in developing countries worse as it puts corporate profits before people,” Tu said.

“The RCEP has been negotiated in secret and is now being signed before the public has access to the text. This flies in the face of basic democratic principles, and Australia’s stated commitment to gender equality. The lack of transparency could have dire consequences for women’s access to decent work and social protection globally.”

There is a growing body of evidence that women’s exclusion from trade negotiation processes has resulted in women’s rights being overlooked and trade rules having negative outcomes for women.

“We know from leaked texts that the RCEP could reduce funding for public services, drive down wages, and threaten access to decent working conditions. Women are disproportionately impacted as the majority of those in low-wage, insecure work. Public services are critical to gender equality as they reduce women’s unpaid work,” Tu said.

“Intellectual property provisions, particularly in relation to enforcement also threaten women’s access to affordable healthcare and vaccines. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we need freer and fairer access to healthcare, not less.”

Tu said that the Australian Government needs to ensure that it upholds its domestic and international commitments to women’s rights, by not signing onto trade deals that will deepen gender inequality.

For more information and interviews with ActionAid spokespeople, please contact: Liz Pick, ActionAid Australia’s Media and Communications Manager on +61 (0)422 105 840 or [email protected].

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