TPPA and the State of Discourse in Malaysia


February 2, 2016

TPPA and the State of Discourse in Malaysia

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan

http://www.thestar.com

You cannot allow others to determine how you dance, or you might win some battles but you will not be able to cope in the overall war.

Well done, MITI’s Dato’ Seri Mustapha Mohamed and his Team-Let us move forward on other Issues like Governance and Corruption–Din Merican

I AM pleased that our Parliament has voted for Malaysia to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Over three days, both the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara debated the issue and the Government won the vote in both chambers.

However I am very disappointed by the way the vote was won. Members of both chambers voted according to their party stance. Both Barisan Nasional and the opposition voted according to the party lines.

If the parties had decided to use the Parliamentary whip, then why hold the special session at all? It was a waste of time and money because ultimately no one used any brainpower in making their decisions. Their parties decided for them.

Together with colleagues from IDEAS, I was in Parliament on the day of the special sitting to persuade the MPs to support our entry into the TPPA. I met some BN MPs who were against the TPPA and I also met some opposition MPs who were supportive of the TPPA. It was a shame that none of them could speak their true mind in Parliament.

I would have preferred for the elected representatives to follow their conscience. Then the special session would have meant something.

Nevertheless, now that the vote is over, let us take stock of what happened.If we look at the past three years leading up to the vote, we must say kudos to the anti-liberalisation activists spearheading the campaign against the TPPA. They were persistent, consistent and determined.

The anti-liberalisation movement operates globally and has never failed to mobilise demonstrations when major trade deals are being decided.There have been anti-liberalisation rallies at the meetings of the World Bank, G8, the World Trade Organisation, and more, in various countries around the world. The movement has now become more organised in Malaysia.

Their strategy is almost always the same globally. Focus on spreading doubts and fear. Repeat the same mantra over and over again. Tell the public that the issue is too complex for anybody to understand it all.

Organise the campaign early and don’t wait for the official text because the actual enemy is liberalisation while the actual text is just a tool. Force the public to compartmentalise the issues rather than analysing the deal holistically.

If one issue is answered, quickly move on to the next one without acknowledging the clarification for the earlier issue.Use selective data and statistics, and discredit others’ studies using any means necessary.

Ask detailed questions like “What is the impact of ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement)?” but spread a generic message such as “America is evil” so that while the other side is busy explaining boring technical facts, they can focus on their more “sexy” rhetorical propaganda.

As a campaign strategy, they were effective. Many MPs I spoke to expressed fear to vote for the TPPA because they felt that they would be voting against “the people”.

The anti-liberalisation activists campaigned loud and long enough to create the impression that they represent public opinion.The reality, in fact, is actually the opposite.

A Pew Research Centre Spring 2015 Global Attitude Survey asked Malaysians “Would the TPPA be a good thing for our country or a bad thing?” In fact, only 18% said that it would be a bad thing.

The main lesson I learned from the whole saga is that you cannot allow others to determine how you dance. If you try to do that, you might win some battles but you will not be able to cope in the overall war.

In the case of the TPPA, yes, Parliament may have passed the motion for us to sign it. But that is just one tiny battle. I am pretty certain that if we check the general temperature in the country now, we will find that the anti-liberalisation sentiment has been strengthened.

In the overall effort to liberalise the economy, pro-reform initiatives are not winning and may have become weaker.As a result, we shouldn’t be surprised if a more organised opposition is mounted when we go into Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, other Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership partners, and more. The TPPA experience has emboldened the anti-liberalisation groups and they will become more effective in the future.

But please don’t get me wrong. I am not at all saying that this is a negative development.On the contrary, I feel it is healthy that the public policy arena is becoming more hotly contested. It is a sign of a maturing society. Now those who want to see less protectionism and more competition to benefit the consumers must become more organised too.

And let me make another important clarification too. Even though I think these anti-liberalisation campaigners are wrong, I believe they are good people who are passionate about their cause. They are campaigning not because they want to damage this country but because they love it.

What we need to do is to continue the debate on public policy in a healthy way. Differences are normal and when it comes to public policy, there will always be consternations.

Most of the thought-leaders at the top celebrate these differences. They can challenge each other in a heated argument, while sipping a friendly teh o ais and munching goreng pisang. Just as those higher up can be civil to one another, so must we.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

 

9 thoughts on “TPPA and the State of Discourse in Malaysia

  1. Parliament had approved it and we are going to sign it. Now all that is left is for a clear demonstration that, on balance, it is in the interest of the nation. Time for discourse is over.

  2. The process of negotiating and approving international agreements is political. It is naive to expect otherwise. Stronger nations will also be able to obtain better terms than weaker nations.

    Once again, I agree with Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz that the TPP agreement is a “charade” and should be opposed.

    https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trans-pacific-partnership-charade-by-joseph-e–stiglitz-and-adam-s–hersh-2015-10?barrier=true

  3. wakil rakyat yg sebenar ialah calon bebas yg menang pilihanraya. selainnya wakil parti. kita tengok apa yg berlaku di kedah, depa ni bergocoh pasai harga getah sekerap jatuh ka?. bila dah hilang kuasa atau about to lose position, baru terhegeh2 ingat rakyat.

  4. Wan Saiful says this about opponents of the TPPA :

    “Their strategy is almost always the same globally. Focus on spreading doubts and fear. Repeat the same mantra over and over again. Tell the public that the issue is too complex for anybody to understand it all.

    Organise the campaign early and don’t wait for the official text because the actual enemy is liberalisation while the actual text is just a tool. Force the public to compartmentalise the issues rather than analysing the deal holistically.

    If one issue is answered, quickly move on to the next one without acknowledging the clarification for the earlier issue.Use selective data and statistics, and discredit others’ studies using any means necessary.”

    and then adds this :

    “And let me make another important clarification too. Even though I think these anti-liberalisation campaigners are wrong, I believe they are good people who are passionate about their cause. They are campaigning not because they want to damage this country but because they love it.”

    So in other words, he is saying that basically good people are resorting to dishonest means to achieve their goals. What a load of crap.

    The legal framework and conflict resolution system of the TPPA is dodgy. The full text was never really made available except through propaganda emissaries of the State. We have no idea how the negotiations were carried out.

    Actual so called “liberalizations” goals were apparently fudged for home grown protectionist policies via the so called bumiputra agenda. And data and statistic were fudged on both sides but the reality is that the fact that the pro TPPA had to fudge their statistics should tell us something.

    And as Dr. Phua accurately points out “The process of negotiating and approving international agreements is political.” something someone like Lim Teck Ghee seemed to forget.

    As Ralph Nader says ““[Free trade agreements] are trade agreements that don’t stick to trade…they colonize environmental labor, and consumer issues of grave concern (in terms of health safety, and livelihoods too) to many, many hundreds of millions of people – and they do that by subordinating consumer, environmental, and labor issues to the imperatives and the supremacy of international commerce.

  5. The TPP agreement may not be approved by the US Congress itself.

    So why is the Najib regime so eager to sign onto it?

  6. “ . . . Their strategy is almost always the same globally. Focus on spreading doubts and fear. Repeat the same mantra over and over again. Tell the public that the issue is too complex for anybody to understand it all. . . . spread a generic message such as “America is evil” . . .

    No, not at all, not doubts about, and fear of, TPPA that have caused indigestion for so many including many Americans; it is more than that. It was the way TPPA was pushed as soon as the Americans came into the scene. Let it not be forgotten that it started as Trans-Pacific Strategic Partnership Agreement with the original signatories being Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore — this agreement was signed in 2005. With the US taking the lead once it came on board negotiations among the parties have been shrouded in secrecy.

    It didn’t take long for the cynicism and outright hostility to be expressed, first in the US for a host of reasons, not least the throwaway line that secrecy was needed to ensure national security — read below to see how a lawyer responded to this.

    Did Malaysians say anything at the early stage ? Nothing, simply because no one had any clue what was going on.

    Let Binoy Kampmark explain in “The TPP Trade Agreement, Sovereignty, and Secrecy. Economic Dislocation, Environmental Degradation” – Global Research, July 31, 2015 – http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-tpp-trade-agreement-sovereignty-and-secrecy-economic-dislocation-environmental-degradation/5466164

    Excerpts:
    National security secrecy may be appropriate to protect us from our enemies; it should not be used to protect our politicians from us.” Margot E. Kaminski, NYT, April 14, 2015.

    US negotiators were always in the main lane, suggesting that they would get what they wanted, breezing through the 21st century with Washington’s vision like modern buccaneers. Much of this is based on the illusory idea the future is calculable, that economic modelling becomes truth. Sign on the dotted line, and the Mammon shall be yours.

    The US Treasury Department has come up with an astrological figure of increases in American exports to Asia by $123 billion. Other figures have been drawn out of hats, most of which will hardly cut muster when the deal is actually in place. Such deals have a habit of enriching unevenly, leaving a good deal of economic, and social pillage in their wake.”

    . . . But the TPP, in its entire negotiating process, has become a genuine punch to citizen sovereignty, a trickle-down bonanza of delusionary advances.

    . . . .As legal scholar Margot E. Kaminski would explain in April, ‘Even if current negotiations over the trade agreement end with no deal, the draft chapter will remain classified for four years as national security information.

    . . . . Free trade is not so much a case of improving living standards as attempting to buffer the status quo with low grade incentives.

    . . . . but must sign a four-year confidentiality provision. One of the requirements counters, if not repudiates the parliamentary spirit altogether: ‘I will not divulge any of the text or information obtained in the briefing to any party, I will not copy, transcribe or remove the negotiating text’. This absurd state of affairs can only trigger suspicion.

    . . . . The horse trading has also reached degrees of cynicism that would make any Machiavellian hack proud. Deals have been done to paper over wretched human rights records – take the case of Malaysia, which was upgraded by the US State Department in the human trafficking stakes ahead of fresh talks in Hawaii. It had previously received the worst rating in terms of trafficking, something which bars the US from making trade deals.”

  7. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/02/04/martin-shkreli-congressional-testimony-turing-pharmaceuticals-valeant-fda-drug-prices/79808004/

    A real life story of a post-TPPA world.. when it passes US legislators.
    WASHINGTON—Embattled drug entrepreneur Martin Shkreli — who vigorously defended his decision to hike the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750 — suddenly went silent Thursday at a Congressional committee, smirking and grinning instead of answering questions.

    That is the negative side of Atlas Shrugged world of Aynn Rand neo-liberalism Malaysian leaders didn’t want to tell the rakyat.

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