RCEP talks to proceed without ISDS

The negotiations of the world’s largest trade pact is targeted to be concluded by the year-end with about 80% of the content completed


AFTER missing several deadlines, member countries of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have agreed to exclude the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, a move that might expedite conclusion of the talks by the end of the year.

Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister Datuk Darell Leiking (picture) said all RCEP member states — 10 Asean countries plus six free trade agreement (FTA) partners namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — have decided to drop the ISDS, but the item could be brought up again within two years of the agreement’s ratification.

“Once the agreement is in force, which is within two years, the member states will relook into it and see whether or not we are going to have the ISDS. But it must be an agreement made by all countries. For now, there is no ISDS,” Darell said after the launch of MITI Consultative Dialogue 2019 in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Darell also said circumstances may change within the two-year period as RCEP nations might later agree in bringing back the ISDS on the negotiation table.

The ISDS — a one-way mechanism that empowers foreign investors to sue the host country at international arbitration tribunals when they feel their investments, including potential future profits, are adversely affected by the new regulations or policies introduced by the state — was one of the major stumbling blocks of the RCEP negotiations.

The negotiations of the world’s largest trade pact, which encompasses 3.4 billion populations, is targeted to be concluded by the year-end with about 80% of the content completed.

The proposed new economic bloc has a total GDP of US$49.5 trillion (RM205.92 trillion) or about 39% of the world’s GDP.

The Seventh RCEP Ministerial Meeting was conducted in Bangkok, Thailand early this month, and the next meeting will be held in Da Nang, Vietnam, from Sept 19 to Sept 27 to further iron out the deals.

The Asean-led initiative was launched during the 21st Asean Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in November 2012, but it has received push backs including from India.

India, which propagated the “Make in India” programme, has been playing hardball particularly on tariff lines amid trade imbalances between other RCEP member states including China, Australia and New Zealand.

Recently, India and Asean have agreed to review its bilateral FTA pact to work out on a simpler deal.

Darell said India may state its position on the move in the next RCEP meeting at the end of this month.

He is, however, optimistic that India would be able to resolve any domestic issue and move forward to ensure the conclusion of RCEP.

On the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Darell said the consultation is ongoing and Malaysia is not writing the agreement off.

The CPTPP, the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the US exit, was signed by the remaining 11 TPP member countries namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam on March 8 this year.

Malaysia, Brunei, Chile and Peru have yet to ratify the agreement.

The MITI Consultative Dialogue 2019, which started yesterday till Oct 7, will serve as a platform to gather feedback from the private sector in the industry.