July 12, 2013
TPPA Round 18 in Kota Kinabalu: Mounting Concern over its Negative Impact
by Josh Hong@http://www.malaysiakini.com
The 18th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) will kick off in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, starting Monday. While the details of the world’s potentially largest trade pact remain shrouded in secrecy, discontented voices in Malaysia are becoming louder by the day.
This week alone, at least two members of Parliament,Charles Santiago and Ong Kian Ming, have raised their concerns over the TPPA’s negative impacts. Nurul Izzah Anwar, too, has previously made her voice heard in this regard.
Santiago, for instance, warns that there could be a sharp rise in medical costs following the signing of the TPPA due to intellectual property rights. Of greater significance is Ong’s (right) position on the TPPA, as the Serdang MP is a PhD holder from an American university, and his past silence on the American invasion of Iraq back in 2003 did give rise to speculations that he was somewhat sympathetic to the Bush Administration at the time.
In fact, Ong’s track record shows clearly that, prior to joining politics, he had hardly spoken out on issues that affected the average folk. More importantly, Ong has never been known as a centre-left figure ill at ease with neo-liberal economic globalisation. Seen in this light, his rather critical remark that the Najib government is rushing the Washington-initiated TPPA through in order to “please President Barrack Obama” is raising eyebrows indeed.
Whether Ong’s caustic view reflects his ideological conversion or just a means to gain political mileage remains to be seen. What is not to be disputed is that the manner in which the United States is bulldozing the TPPA results through, over protests not just in Malaysia, but around the globe. The Obama administration now aims to finalise the document by October this year – barely three months from now.
In a recently-issued joint statement, several health-related NGOs explain that, while “generic medicines save lives by preventing, curing and managing non-communicable and communicable diseases for all Malaysians, especially the lower-income and marginalised groups”, the TPPA would however “reduce access to these affordable medicines”.
And the statement is categorically opposed to “US demands for longer and stronger patents on medicines and medical technologies that are essential to save Malaysian lives”. Breast cancer and HIV patients would be exposed to greater risks should the TPPA be signed.
Indeed, successful TPPA negotiations will create what critics say is a “mega-treaty” that will compel the signatories – Malaysia being a potential partner – to adopt laws and regulations that would invariably favour big corporations in the decades to come.
Conglomerates salivating at SE Asia’s resources
As I have argued before, South-East Asia is rich in natural resources at which global conglomerates continue to salivate.
Despite the Malaysian government’s refusal to reveal the actual details of negotiations, it is gathered that areas under discussion include restrictions on sale and manufacture of genetically modified crops and foods, purchase of drugs and medicines, intellectual property protection in music, computer programmes and the digital media (which could affect domestic entertainment industries), and other resources such as mining and logging (think Sabah and Sarawak, for example).
And British Petroleum, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Apple and Warners and Sony are said be among the likeliest beneficiaries following TPPA.
Given that Malaysians consume a large portion of generic medicines which are far more affordable than their patented alternatives, the grave concern over price hikes in medical products is certainly not misplaced.
Even the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has questioned as to whether the TPPA would make storing library materials costlier. The treaty that is ostensibly about trade could extend the duration of copyrights up to 120 years after the death of the author, which could lead to libraries having to remove references or works that are already digitised – to the detriment of fair access to knowledge.
While the focus of Malaysia’s bumiputra business communities is largely on whether or not the TPPA would force them to be open for wider and stiffer competition, more crucial is the issue that the trade pact could have repercussions on all segments of Malaysian society. When medical costs go up while general knowledge becomes more expensive to come by, it is Malaysians at large who stand to lose, not just the bumiputras.
In view of this, the proposal by Shahrir Abdul Samad, the Johor Baru MP, to form a cross-party parliamentary caucus so as to put the TPPA negotiations under the closest scrutiny is more than welcome indeed. Didn’t Najib himself say time and again that the era when “the government knows best” was over? It is high time he put his word into action by ending all the secrecy around the TPPA come Monday.