August 17, 2012
Malaysia, APEC and the TPP
by Josh Hong@http://www.malaysiakini.com
The upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok, the largest Russian city on the Pacific Ocean, is crucial in addressing several regional and international issues.
First and foremost, it provides the first opportunity for both China and Japan (and Taiwan to a lesser extent) to discuss the long-running and at times incendiary dispute over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands, and for Japan and South Korea to engage in dialogue over the Takeshima/Dokdo islands within a regional setting.
This aside, the Beijing leadership has been deeply irked by Washington’s statement in which China is held responsible for the escalation in tensions in the overlapping territorial claims over parts of the South China Sea, involving the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
Given the uncompromising stance of all the stakeholders, the prospects of reaching a cordial outcome at the APEC summit do look bleak.
While the issue of sovereignty invariably provokes nationalistic sentiments in their most primitive form, trade negotiations may however serve to narrow differences between countries, especially when they are mutually beneficial.
Affecting APEC giants
One major concern for two APEC giants – China and Russia – is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral venture initiated in 2005 by four original signatories, ie. Singapore, Brunei, Chile and New Zealand. However, the United States has since been taking a leading role in pushing for its expansion, with Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Peru and Canada now either having started or about to join in negotiation.
Still, details remain sketchy despite the TPP’s potential to overshadow Apec. The opaque negotiating process has led both Moscow and Beijing to look at the latest product of economic neo-liberalism with strong scepticism.
Shen Jiru, a researcher with the Institute of World Economics and Politics in Beijing, goes as far as to suggest that the TPP has been “hijacked” by Washington in order to take the wind out of Apec’s sails as an attempt to restore its influence in Asia.
I am personally not fully convinced. After all, leaving China and Russia out of any new trade framework in the region would eventually undermine its importance, not to mention the vital trade links between these two powers and the Southeast Asian states.
A more probable agenda is to increase the presence of multinationals in Asia-Pacific. Public Citizen, a US-based consumer rights advocacy group, has recently revealed that up to 600 corporate advisors are now involved in the negotiating process, including representatives from Verizon, FedEx and Walmart.
As rightly observed and pointed out by Fifa Rahman, certain provisions under the TPP could negatively affect domestic tobacco and “expose parties who continue to regulate post-signing to international tobacco litigation and/ arbitration, the costs of which reach into the hundreds of millions of US dollars”.
Costs to rise
Meanwhile, Third World Network and its Director of Programmes Chee Yoke Ling too expressed the concern that the new arrangement could result in world pharmaceutical corporations seeking strong protections and hence raising medicines prices for millions of ordinary people.
So far, no reports address the potential pitfalls of the TPP better than the one presented by Médecins Sans Frontières, entitled How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Threatens Access to Medicines.
Interestingly, there is even a significant level of opposition to the TPP in New Zealand, with some perceiving it as paving the way for “foreign control of the country’s natural resources and key assets”.
In Japan, progressive trade unions and farmers have been organising talks and protests against the hasty push for the TPP to be adopted, arguing that the government’s position would deprive the right of the farming communities and workers to survival when confronted with a huge influx of foreign products.
The (Taiwan president) Ma Ying-jeou administration had hoped to win public support with the so-called ‘American-Beef-for-American-Visa’ deal, under which Taiwan would give more concessions to the import of American beef in exchange for visa waiver for Taiwanese to visit the US, only to be met with enormous backlash. It appears to be wishful thinking, for Washington has made clear these two issues are completely separate.
As far as Malaysia is concerned, the Najib government has remained rather quiet. No one knows precisely at what stage are we at in regard to TPP negotiations, although Liow Tiong Lai, the pathetic Health Minister, has voiced his reservations. Still, how much weight can he carry when faced with Umno bigwigs in the cabinet?
What can Najib Abdul Razak do if others at the APEC Summit try to promote the TPP, when all that the apprentice prime minister has shown so far is his lack of leadership and habit into policy flip-flops, as exemplified by the latest fiasco over the amendments to Section 114A of the Evidence Act?
More tellingly, UMNO’s no holds barred version of capitalism determines that conglomerates – especially the foreign ones – are more than welcome so long as they benefit its own cronies.
As Adam Smith famously said: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest”.
Hence, there is little that one can expect of Najib when it comes to the TPP, even though he may not be in the job long enough to see it happen.