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Tuesday December 6, 2011

Reject Trans-Pacific partnership talks

MALAYSIA joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations – a free trade agreement (FTA) involving the United States – in October 2010. The country’s previous attempt in negotiating an FTA with the US stalled when talks became deadlocked over 58 contentious issues.

The Trans-Pacific FTA (TPFTA) is being negotiated by the US, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Japan, Canada and Mexico may also join.

Officials from these nine countries will be in Kuala Lumpur this week for TPFTA negotiations.

Most of the TPFTA text is still secret, but based on leaks and publicly released government documents, the TPFTA will have far-reaching consequences for Malaysians for many generations.

The US, in leaked proposals, has demanded much stronger intellectual property rights protection than it asked of countries that are more developed than Malaysia.

These proposals, if accepted, would raise medicine prices in Malaysia at a time when the Government’s ability to subsidise medicines is under pressure from the budget deficit.

The US is persisting in these demands even though these go against the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

The US’ intellectual property demands would also make inputs more expensive for farmers as well as extend copyright protection, making it 120 years (from the current 50) before some books could be copied.

In the TPFTA, the US is also likely to be asking for strong protection for its investors. This protection in existing USFTAs has previously required governments to pay millions of dollars in compensation for ordinary environmental and health and other regulations because they did not suit the foreign investor.

The Australian Government has refused to allow foreign investors to sue it at international courts in this way because of its concern about the restrictions it puts on its ability to regulate.

If the Australian Government has decided it cannot agree to this in the TPFTA because it cannot afford the legal fees and compensation payments and its ability to regulate, can the Malaysian Government afford to agree to such a demand?

According to the outline of the TPFTA released at APEC recently, TPFTA countries have agreed to open government procurement to companies and products from each other’s countries and “are seeking comparable coverage of procurement by all the countries”.

Agreement to this jeopardises the NEP and its successor policies.

Previously, the Government has made public assurances that it will not sacrifice our national interests in order to forge a deal with the US.

The Malaysian Government stood firm and rejected the US’ similar outrageous demands in an FTA last time. We hope it does the same this time.

S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS,
President,
Consumers Association of Penang,
and Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

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