After surviving ‘sparks’ in Parliament over the TPPA motion, Malaysian negotiators are going into another long haul over the next two years – introducing amendments involving at least 17 laws before the agreement is enforced.
SURELY by now most, if not all, of our representatives in Parliament would have understood what the TPPA is all about.
Or they should at least know what TPPA stands for after a two-day special Dewan Rakyat sitting last week that saw a motion tabled supporting the move for Malaysia to participate and sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
The free trade deal will be signed on Feb 4 in New Zealand by 12 countries which form 30% of the world economy.
The motion tabled by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed saw Members of Parliament debating and briefly exchanging heated words on the trade deal.
It was two days of listening to jargon and tongue-twisting terms like intellectual property rights (IPR), special drawing rights, data exclusivity and investor state dispute settlement (ISDS).
Some MPs even coined names for TPPA – Tok Pa Pak Angguk (Tok Pa the Yes Man) or Tok Pa Personal Agenda – and brought laughter to the house as they teased Mustapa who is popularly called Tok Pa.
On a serious note, the issues raised by the MPs, especially from the Opposition, were mostly old ones.
It was a bit of a disappointment when they continued to recycle arguments related to ISDS and state-owned enterprises, and questioned the country’s sovereignty should it join the TPPA.
Very few spoke of the text of the agreement which is already available in the public domain.
A negotiator was puzzled that MP for Lembah Pantai Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is a member of the bipartisan parliament caucus on TPPA, still raised the issue whether local companies can compete with bigger ones such as those from the United States.
Nurul Izzah and MP for Klang Charles Santiago, another caucus member, also expressed concern over the possible abuse of the ISDS mechanism, fearing it would override Malaysia’s sovereignty.
This despite Mustapa’s repeated explanation that the ISDS would serve as a safeguard for the country’s companies operating overseas.
Mustapa said many people still had the wrong impression of the ISDS chapter, adding that many felt Malaysia had no experience in such a mechanism.
Citing an example in Ghana in 2004, Mustapa said local telecommunications giant Telekom Malaysia Bhd faced problems after a new president took over the country.
“With ISDS, we managed to safeguard our company overseas. This is an example of how ISDS could be used for our interests.”
There were Opposition MPs who questioned provisions in the pharmaceutical chapter and IPR extension which one negotiator said clearly showed they did not look through the text of the agreement.
“Simple things like what are the provisions on pharmaceutical, IPR extension for instance. The text clearly says you only give extension if there is unnecessary delay and yet the MPs keep saying that there is going to be extension of patent and drug prices are still going to go up,” said a member of the negotiating team.
There seemed to be contradiction and lack of coordination among the Opposition MPs.
For instance, Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng said Malaysia should not reject the TPPA for fear that the country would be dominated by countries like the United States, while others were making allegations that multinationals would come in to monopolise and affect local SMEs.
If the Opposition looked uncoordinated, the Barisan Nasional side was more prepared for the debate.
Perhaps the engagements with Miti and Malaysian TPPA negotiators did help them after all.
Several negotiators singled out Sik MP Dr Mansor Abdul Rahman and Pasir Gudang MP Normala Abdul Samad as having done their homework in debating the motion.
Dr Mansor concentrated on pharmaceutical and intellectual property right issues which revolve around access to medicine and healthcare, increase in pharmaceutical prices and copyright protection term.
Dr Mansor, noted TPPA chief negotiator Datuk J. Jayasiri, explained well on pharmaceutical and IPR chapters especially in denying allegations that price of drugs would increase.
The Sik MP in his debate said Malaysians were “poisoned” with allegations that about 80% of medicine prices would increase until 1000% due to Malaysia’s participation in the TPPA. He said the TPPA would not cause drugs prices to increase but other factors like currency and raw materials.
“Based on studies conducted why the TPPA will not contribute to the price increase, we must understand clearly issues related to the pharmaceutical industry.
“What are intellectual property, patent, generic, biologic, biosimilar, patent term adjustments, exclusive data rights, access window and what was agreed in the TPPA,” Dr Mansor said in his lengthy explanation.
Pasir Gudang MP Normala Abdul Samad, who spoke about labour rights, asked the Government to explain the changes and the improvements of labour laws that will be introduced once the country signed the TPPA. She urged the Government to look at the loopholes in several laws about the rights of foreign workers to participate in unions.
The Dewan Rakyat passed the motion to allow Malaysia’s involvement in the TPPA through bloc voting which saw 127 members supporting while 84 opposed.
For this week, Mustapa and his team of negotiators could for a short period savour the Feb 4 signing after all the hard work put in the last five years. Then it is back to the harsh reality of the real work in amending related laws as part of the TPPA ratification process.
Jayasiri said the negotiators are still getting many requests for talks on the TPPA and more outreach programmes to hold as there is still a lot of wrong information being circulated in the social media.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak during his TPPA pre-council with Barisan MPs and the TPPA negotiators on the eve of the special Parliament sitting, applauded the Malaysian negotiators for their hard work. He praised them again in his blog last Friday.
“We could see their dedication and determination in defending not just national interests but also the bumiputra agenda,” he said in his blog NajibRazak.com.