August 18, 2013
TPPA: Kudos to Prime Minister Najib
by BA Hamzah, DSDK
Kudos to Prime Minister Najib Razak for taking pre-emptive measures on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The Cabinet’s decision is a soft reminder to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to be more sensitive to the aspirations of the rakyat.MITI is accountable to the Cabinet, which in turn is answerable to the rakyat.
The Cabinet has set the litmus test for Malaysia joining the TPPA: favourable terms for those affected by the Treaty. The ball is now back in MITI’s court, which must now make sure the Treaty benefits Malaysians.
It would have been a different narrative if, for example, the MITI negotiators were to first consult some experts in trade and investment policy and the affected parties before taking on the “big boys”. [Five of the TPPA members have GNP per capita above US forty-thousand dollars; US$12,000 for Brazil and US$5,000 plus for Malaysia].
One trade expert that MITI should forthwith consult is the Cambridge- educated, former USM colleague and Penang- based columnist for The Star Martin Khor.
Had it held its belated “Open House” much earlier and long before Tun Mahathir and others criticised the TPPA, MITI would not have to go through this wrenching soul searching process. A few of us including my good friend and blogger, Dato’ Din Merican and I are concerned with MITI’s defensive style, which has inevitably dented its credibility. MITI should not behave like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.
Members of the public are not privy to the negotiations. While we put our trust in MITI, we also expect it to do rigorous homework. Now, we know that a comprehensive study has not been completed and that no cost-benefit study in two critical areas was conducted.
We can only hope that the results of these studies will be made public as the rakyat has every right to know what is in store for them. MITI is not empowered to act without the consent of Parliament, which represents us, the people.
Whether the MITI Open House on August 1 was an afterthought or otherwise, the session was a welcome opportunity to “exchange” views. Unfortunately the forum turned out to be an unusual exercise in public relations. At that session, MITI merely restated its position that everything was overboard. Of course, as expected, it promised to bring the expressed concerns for further discussion.
Knowing what we want is half of the picture. Getting what the Cabinet has mandated is a challenge that our negotiators must live up to. Will the “big boys” continue to listen to our pleas and woes? Is it not too little too late to renegotiate the terms when the clock has started ticking? What is the fate of million Malaysians whose livelihood depends on the state-owned–enterprises (SOEs) and small- and- medium enterprises (SMEs) once the TPPA comes into operation, for example?
Many thousand poor Malaysians suffering from cancer, AIDS and myeloid leukaemia who depend on cheaper generic drugs have reasons to smile after the Cabinet made a decision that it would not agree to any provision in the Treaty that limits access to affordable medicine and healthcare.
Under the TPPA rule on intellectual property right, only patented drugs are allowed. With regard to this, the Indians are more fortunate following a recent Supreme Court decision that rejected a patent for a cancer drug; the cheaper generic version costs only US$165; the would- be- patented drug costs US$2,666 a month!
Renegotiating issues like jurisdiction in the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, status of government procurement policies, status of state-owned enterprises, policies on financial services including capital controls, and the impact of intellectual property rights on the cost of medicine and healthcare, is, in my view, difficult at this late stage.
The multinationals are using the TPPA to rewrite the rules of international trade and financial services. The multinationals are determined to rein in the role of state enterprises and promotion of local small and medium private companies, which they allege have been blocking access to markets in Third World countries.
The role of the state as actor in international relations will likely to be eroded under the TPPA trade-imposed regime; the multinational companies have supplanted their role. The fear in some quarters that the state can no longer exercise sovereign immunity over certain trade -related issues is quite justified.
With the multinationals in the driver’s seat, anti-smoking pictures or slogans like “smoking is bad for your lungs”, “that second hand smoke kills” or “smoking leads to cancer” will no longer be allowed. Governments can be sued for displaying these slogans!
Whether PM Najib Razak will call- off the unpopular TPPA depends on many factors–external and domestic. Externally, withdrawing from the TPPA will not endear KL to Washington especially when Malaysia is hosting President Obama in October. Domestically, it depends on how much the Treaty will affect his chances of retaining UMNO Presidency in the upcoming UMNO General Assembly slated for October, too. On balance, however, when push comes to shove, the latter will have the final say.