Posted: 05 Jun 2013 10:19 PM PDT
Malaysia’s Sovereignty Sacrificed for Free Trade?
The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) initiative involving 11 countries and is currently in its 17th round of closed-door negotiations. Malaysia joined the TPP discussions in October 2010. Unfortunately, in keeping with past traditions, Malaysians including their elected representatives have not been informed of the discussions pertaining to the TPP.
This unfortunate exclusion from discussions, debates or any other form of participation let alone the entire process of obtaining a Parliamentary ratification denies the public their right to oversight and scrutiny of international treaties and agreements – be they bilateral or multilateral – which could affect national interests and sovereignty.
Although the Government is allowed to enter into international agreements and treaties without having to obtain Parliamentary approval, the scale and size of the TPP supercedes any other treaties in the world. Consistent with President Barack Obama’s goal to make it the ‘trade treaty’ worthy of the 21st century, TPP far exceeds the authority and quality of the multilateral agreements already agreed at World Trade Organization (WTO). This in itself should have been a red flag for further caution.
Invariably, we are extremely worried that the Government will sign the TPP agreement without first seeking public opinion, or being attentive to the concerns and sentiments of the people of Malaysia.
While KEADILAN in principle supports FTAs if all stakeholders are involved in the process, alongside Parliamentary review and ratification, all FTAs nevertheless must be premised on "fair trade" principles without compromising the socio-economic sphere, environment, cultural domain, labour rights, public safety and national security. On that premise, we call for a parliamentary expert study group on TPP – formed of Malaysian experts and specialists drawn from around the world – to be immediately convened to look into the nuts and bolts of the FTA.
We have justifiable reasons to be concerned. This is because by joining this trade agreement:-
- TPP confers greater legal rights on foreign businesses than those available to domestic businesses through a clause called the "investor-state" dispute settlement (ISDS) resolution. In lieu of this, we question the motives of the Government for entertaining the notion of joining an agreement that empowers foreign corporations to challenge domestic laws and regulations outside of domestic courts without first exhausting local legal measures. This is especially frightening as it allows foreign corporations to circumvent laws and regulations enacted by our Government in public interest such as those pertaining to natural resource, environmental protection, and health policies.
- TPP contains provisions concerning infringements of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) ranging from basic pharmaceuticals to digital information online. These provisions would result in the increased costs of medicines purchased by our Government, and for the private consumer of medicines. Further, some provisions would hinder privacy, expression and innovation on the Internet as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be required to monitor the everyday activity of internet users, and are given the authority to act upon them by means of disabling net access or throttling bandwidth, effectively hindering freedom of speech.
Accordingly, even if we accept TPP, we demand that the Malaysian Government ensure certain safeguards to be in place:-
1) Strengthen our environmental laws to that of international standards to prevent any abuse of our diverse ecosystem.
A study has been made by the Peterson Institute, stating that Malaysia stands to gain huge income gains through TPP. However, the projection has made no attempts to determine the impact of this trade deal on income inequality or environmental sustainability. Hence, we see TPP, and especially the processes leading to its ultimate acession, to be fraught with various social, political and economic risks, which could undermine the very integrity of the agreement eventually.
I will move a motion within Parliament strongly demanding a Parliamentary Expert Group on TPP be convened, with the added caveat that the legislature should be duly informed. This is to ensure the protection of the democratic rights of the Malaysian Parliament, especially in relation to the issue of review and ratification of all treaties.
Indeed, subsequent legislative amendments must be restored in light of this upcoming new treaty of TPP. Our concerns are not trivial. We will not accept the blind faith assurances that the Malaysian Government would perform its duties when they have failed miserably to protect our national interest and sovereignty in the past; including instances such as the territorial dispute cases of Pulau Batu Putih (with Singapore) and Block L and M (with Brunei), the Water Agreement (with Singapore) and the Singapore Tanjong Pagar KTM land deal (with Singapore).
I will further prioritise engagement with representatives from the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Chamber's of Commerce regarding this matter. We take kindly to the invitation of the US Embassy which stated that they have offered give numerous groups from both business and civil society here in Malaysia the opportunity to be a stakeholder in the negotiations. I fully intend to represent the interests of Malaysians during the upcoming round of negotiations that will be held in Malaysia and will be bringing with me representatives from the respective CCM's to be stakeholders as well.
This TPP may have been in the spirit of 'Free Trade', but is it truly a 'fair trade' deal for the citizens of our country?
Nurul Izzah Anwar
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