Will the RCEP deal transform Asian telecoms?

Will the RCEP deal transform Asian telecoms?

It has been described as one of the largest free trade deals in history – but what will Australia’s new trade agreement with 14 Indo-Pacific countries mean for telecommunications, e-commerce, cybersecurity and the flow of data across borders?

According to the UK’s Financial Times, the recently signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) takes most of the existing agreements signed by the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and combines them into a single multilateral pact with Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

Possibly relevant to telecoms equipment and component manufacturers could be the rationalisation of rules of origin. With only one trade agreement, when a product is manufactured for RCEP it works for all 15 countries and requires just one piece of paper.

There are also new commitments on open data, telecommunications cooperation and government procurement. For example, according to the website InnovationAus, the signatories have agreed to ensure that public telecommunications services providers will provide reasonable and non-discriminatory treatment for access to submarine cable systems, to allow the portability of mobile telephone numbers and to promote reasonable international mobile roaming rates.

Also relevant could be a common set of rules surrounding intellectual property, and rules around government procurement. Collaboration on best practice for dealing with cybersecurity incidents is also addressed.

The signatories have also apparently committed to ensure that businesses aren’t prevented from transferring data and information overseas. Exceptions may, however, be applied for the financial services sector and for national security or public policy reasons.

However, according to the FT, the e-commerce chapter of the deal was a disappointment. The 15 countries were apparently unable to agree any rules on cross-border data flows or a customs moratorium on data transmission.

Another major problem is the absence from the RCEP of India, which apparently feared its manufacturers would be swamped by cheap Chinese competition.