SINGAPORE: A Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — a “free” trade agreement between the 10 Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and its major trading partners in the region — is expected to be signed later this year. But labor unions and workers’ rights advocates in the region fear that the secretive six-year negotiations will further erode workers’ rights in the Asian region, while strengthening the hands of investors who may even be able to sue governments for changing laws such as setting minimum wages, that would erode their profitability.

Singapore and Japan — the poster boys for the failed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that included similar provisions and negotiated in secrecy — are pushing for the adopting of RCEP by the end of the year. “At this point in time, we have reached a stage where we are very near, and we can see the possibility of having a substantive conclusion for the RCEP negotiations by the end of this year,” Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, told the Straits Times after the latest round of negotiations in Tokyo in July.

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