January 24, 2016
Thayaparan on TPPA
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.― Lao Tzu
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) long opposition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement culminates tomorrow ( January 23) at Dataran Merdeka. Kuala Lumpur.
They and a host of other disparate NGOs hope for a huge turnout of Malaysians opposed to what they claim is an ideological struggle against the corporate hegemons that attempt to subvert the will of the people and an UMNO government complicit in playing geopolitical games at the expense of the rakyat.
For the first time, the TPPA has divided academics, politicians and NGOs who usually find themselves comfortably ensconced along partisan lines. Indeed, Lim Teck Ghee’s well-argued and timely piece ‘Should we sign on or stay out of TPPA?’ ends with this rejoinder:
“The TPPA is neither a poison pill nor a panacea. While there is a price to pay, the government has made the right choice by opting to join it. The discipline that the TPPA will demand will further the cause of the rule of law and force the government to think twice before embarking on rule changes. Membership will force the government to reconsider and amend existing rules that have the effect of furthering protective and rentier practices.”
Meanwhile DAP’s Charles Santiago and Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive of IDEAS, have been involved in a spate over the former’s contention that the TPPA would affect access to affordable medicine.
In Wan Saiful’s words, “I fully support YB Charles Santiago’s demand for the Ministry of Health to be more engaged and work together with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in communicating the impact of the TPP on healthcare in Malaysia, but is regrettable that the DAP MP was selective with facts to support his arguments and he turns a deaf ear when answers are given to address his concerns.”
The problem here is that answers have not been provided. What the UMNO government has done is allowed the discourse to be dominated by proxies (from both sides of the political divide) who cherry pick points of contention or create strawmen arguments in an attempt to avoid the responsibility of explaining the effects of their (BN) secretly negotiated trade deal on the lives and livelihood of ordinary Malaysians.
Suaram Adviser Dr. Kua Kia Soong, meanwhile reminds TPPA proponents that “The TPPA is clearly more than just a trade deal; it also imposes parameters on non-trade areas. This is the point stressed by (economist Joseph) Stiglitz. It sets new rules for everything from food safety and financial markets to medicine prices and internet freedom, requiring countries to maintain compatible regulatory regimes; facilitate corporate financial transactions; establish copyright and patent protections to govern intellectual property rights and to safeguard foreign investors.”
The average Malaysian is either unaware of the importance of this agreement or mistrusts a government mired in corruption and financial scandals. The secrecy in which this deal was made has angered opponents of this agreement in many countries and in Malaysia’s case, the Malaysian International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) offered this when it comes to the secrecy involving the negotiating text:
“A level of confidentiality is required for two main reasons: (a) regulations and the evolving process of negotiations and rules surrounding the TPPA oblige negotiators to maintain confidentiality of the negotiating texts and (b) negotiators advancing the interests of Malaysia strategically do not want to publicly disclose their bargaining positions to ensure the best outcome during the negotiations.”
No comprehensive human rights impact assessment
Meanwhile PSM last year noted that Malaysian negotiators were in no position to conclude the talks held in the United States because there was no comprehensive “Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) study to examine the impact of the trade treaty on Malaysians when it is signed and implemented”.
Apparently “in mid-2014, MITI initiated a cost-benefit analysis study (CBA) for only two specific areas, namely – impact on bumiputera policy, SME and national interest. We were informed that the bumiputera policy and SME CBA study is undertaken by Teraju, while the national interest analysis is done by ISIS (Institute of Strategic and International Studies [ISIS] Malaysia). But till today, the findings of both studies have yet to be released.”
PSM list several points of concern that this agreement would have an impact on human rights. Readers are encouraged to read more at their official site but briefly, they are:
1) Right to food
2) Right to healthcare and well-being
3) Right to basic amenities
4) Right to education
5) Right to housing
6) Rights of citizens and environmental protection
7) Rights of workers
8) Rights of indigenous communities
I am extremely skeptical of how exactly this trade agreement negotiated in secret would have any significant impact on the institutional dysfunctions that plague this country. Perkasa and the rest of their right-wing kind may find themselves unlikely allies with secular, socialist and oppositional forces of this country but the rhetoric coming out of Putrajaya and even emissaries of the United States is that nothing will actually change when it comes to the racially-motivated agenda of the ruling regime.
International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed boldly states “The bumiputera agenda has been recognised by our friends in the TPPA negotiations. Contracts reserved for bumiputeras will continue”, which to my mind at least should raise danger signals to anyone who advocates a meritocratic playing field or if you like, a free or fair-playing field.
This sentiment is echoed by Putrajaya’s friend US Trade Representative Michael Froman, who said in a forum organised by IDEAS, that “Minister Mustapa and Prime Minister Najib has been very clear from the start on TPPA, how important the bumiputera policy is to Malaysia” and “And our view is, it is really the sovereign decision of Malaysia what direction they take the bumiputera policy in the future.”
The “bumiputera policy” as articulated by the US Trade Representative is in the context of alleviating poverty but the reality is that the so-called policy is code for racial supremacy and political hegemony.
Attempting to correct the perceived “imbalance” among the various communities in Malaysia as discussed by some of the other participants at the IDEAS forum, ignores the fact that the reasons for such imbalances were the policies that were carried out post-1969 and the machinations of successive administrations that redefined the so-called bumiputera policies as a means to maintain political and racial hegemony.
So the big question is should Malaysians turn out in support of for these disparate groups on Jan 23 when they are clearly divided on the issue of the TPPA. The answer in my opinion is yes. If you do not support the TPPA, you should attend the protest march to stand in solidarity with groups which you may have nothing else in common with.
If you do support the TPPA, you should attend the rally tomorrow to remind the government that the implementation of this trade pact should be done in good faith and the so-called progressive ideas contained in the implementation of this agreement will be closely monitored by a skeptical rakyat.
My opinion should not be construed as a ploy to increase numbers but rather as an acknowledgement that diverse views on this issue should be carefully considered or rejected based on rational consideration of information that should have been available to the public.
That when a deal is negotiated in secret and the views of various stakeholders are ignored or not even assessed, this spells trouble especially for a regime that is on the brink of a dictatorship.
And less people think that I’m against a free market, I’m a firm believer (much to the dismay of certain of my ideological – left and right – leaning friends) in these words of the late Harry Browne: “The free market punishes irresponsibility. Government rewards it.”
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.