Cabinet meets trade pact opponents today to decide Malaysia’s options

Some of the protesters at a recent demonstration against the TPPA. The Malaysian Insider pic.Some of the protesters at a recent demonstration against the TPPA. The Malaysian Insider pic.

The Cabinet will today meet representatives from Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Malay rights groups and activists opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) for talks that will decide Malaysia's future in the trade pact.

This is the first comprehensive discussion about the 12-nation trade agreement for the ministers, many of whom remain unclear on the extent of the TPPA.

The pact covers 800 million people and is worth US$28 trillion in trade and could be signed as early as end of this year in an initiative first started by US President Barack Obama two years ago.

The Malaysian Insider understands that Putrajaya is now leaning towards not signing the agreement but a final decision will only be made after cost-benefit analysis is done on each of the sectors involved.

Likely to be under severe scrutiny will be the Minister of International Trade and Industry (Miti) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and senior Miti officials who have been involved in the negotiations since it began two years ago.

Sources said this was their final opportunity to persuade critics that signing the TPPA will be in Malaysia's long-term interest.

Sabah capital Kota Kinabalu hosted the 18th round of negotiations last month but critics cited the secretive nature of talks as one reason for opposing the pact. The 19th round of talks will be held in Brunei's capital city Bandar Seri Begawan this month.

Miti also had hosted an open day on August 1 to listen to critics and explain its stand but there remains deep-seated opposition to the pact especially on legal, pharmaceutical and business grounds.

There has also been some push back from government-linked companies which feel they will be impacted by the agreement, modelled after The United States' free trade agreements (FTA).

Earlier negotiations for an FTA between the US and Malaysia failed over the key provision on government procurements, which Malaysia restricts to Bumiputera companies under its affirmative action policy.

One of the pact's chief critic is former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who says the deal will be lopsided and favour the US.

Bantah TPPA, a coalition of people-based organisations, wrote an open letter to the Cabinet yesterday to highlight issues and concerns over the trade pact.

They said the deal would affect national sovereignty and policy space, eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers, government procurement, labour rights, environment, access to medicines, capital controls, economic policies, SMEs, tobacco control and access to knowledge.

The 12 countries involved in the TPPA talks are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, The United States and Vietnam.

Prior to the recent talks, there was the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP or P4) which is a free trade agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. - August 15, 2013


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