Source: The Malay Mail Online
AUG 18 — The special Cabinet meeting on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) held last Friday was timely, albeit belated.
The resolution made adhered to several previous key demands that were first highlighted by several NGOs as well as the Pakatan Rakyat.
The Cabinet has instructed the Malaysian negotiators to continue with negotiations whilst ensuring Malaysia’s sovereignty is defended; only terms in the TPPA that are favourable to Malaysia are to be agreed upon. Needless to add, Cabinet must be made aware that such negotiations are at a tail end.
The cabinet also agreed that two more Cost Benefit Analyses or CBAs are to be conducted – focusing primarily on interests of small and medium-scale enterprises and the bumiputera business community, as well as a comprehensive analysis of national interests in all chapters being negotiated.
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry, being our lead TPPA focal point has also reiterated to the Cabinet that engagement with all stakeholders would continue prior to conclusion of the TPPA – much intensified, and more transparently.
It is my view that the TPPA has revealed 3 fundamental challenges facing us as a nation. These require immediate remedial action.
First, our challenge is to have a more meaningful and inclusive stakeholder participation prior to signing international agreements.
Despite the current ruckus on the TPPA, we cannot forget the other two major trade agreements which are also being negotiated: RCEP – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (ASEAN + 6 FTA partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea) and Malaysia-EU FTA.
As such, we need a Parliamentary oversight and a ratification process to ensure international agreements undergo rigorous scrutiny, in line with the principle of separation of powers. The executive cannot and must not be the sole determinator of all decisions that can affect, at times adversely, the future of this nation.
The Parliamentary Caucus on the TPPA should be upgraded to a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) -which will provide a more formal arrangement, and allow for greater, more significant engagement, and transparent mechanism in the August House. Such a trade based PSC can be utilized to discern the contents for all trade negotiations (TPPA, RCEP, Malaysia-EU FTA).
Such rigour and layers of accountability could prove useful in managing a different outcomes than the one we saw in past failed international disputes and agreements – whether it be Water, Tanjung Pagar or the Pulau Batu Putih, with Singapore, or even the Blok L and M petroleum territorial rights with Brunei.
Second, our challenge is to be prepared to compete better, globally.
Our ‘Competitive Capacity’ has not been adequately developed despite the opportunities, protectionism and billions of resources spent, or rather, wasted. Much of the failures are due to gross economic and educational policy mismanagement.
We have several examples such as Proton’s inability to compete domestically let alone establish itself as a global brand, unlike Kia or Hyundai – despite being overly subsidised by the rakyat since its inception in 1983.
Instead of placing our priority on TPPA, I believe we first urgently need at least a 10 year National Competitiveness Capacity-Building vision and plan that includes political reforms, economic restructuring and an education revolution. It has to be more far-reaching and more robust than the National Transformation Agenda with its GTP and ETP. We need to start implementing competition domestically to prepare us for global competition.
Third, our challenge is to protect our finite natural resources for national development.
TPPA has revealed that we need to protect our sources of ‘National Wealth’ first before being subjected to an international free trade agreement that demands equal access and rights not only to our markets but also natural resources.
Our petroleum resources are protected by our Petroleum Development Act through various regulations and production sharing contract mechanisms that allows us to retain ‘sovereignty’ and benefit from the revenue generated. We now must look at one of the last significant natural resources, which is our rich Biodiversity.
Malaysia can be the next ‘Global Life Science Hub’ – our biodiversity can be the source of new medicines, further developing bio engineering and bio chemicals industry.
The government is not allocating resources nor paying enough attention to this industry.
Despite Malaysia being acknowledged as rich in biodiversity, studies have shown that Malaysia spends only about 30% of what is spent per hectare on protected areas by developed countries.
A global study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US lists Malaysia among the “highly unfunded countries for biodiversity conservation”, ranking 7th behind Iraq, Djibouti and Angola.
Although there is a policy framework through the National Policy on Biodiversity developed in 1998, institutional bodies governing biodiversity is disjointed and fragmented. At the Federal level, there are at least 7 departments, 3 ministries, 9 agencies and while all 13 states have rights relating to biodiversity.
Additionally, there is a need to develop and nurture our Intellectual Property to ensure growth and innovations in biodiversity are sustainable.
To protect our natural treasures and encourage growth in this industry, as a first step, I will submit a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament for a National Biodiversity Genetic Code Patent Licensing Act.
The next parliamentary sitting should provide the opportunity for the Prime Minister to set up a Parliamentary Standing Committee for trade agreements, and reform existing practice to include a Parliamentary Ratification requirement for all any trade agreements.
The truth is, such deliberations and uproar on the TPPA should propel us to demand political reforms, economic restructuring and educational revolution in guaranteeing our nation’s Global Competitiveness future. We should determine the outcome and the pace of reforms, not any other nation.
Nurul Izzah Anwar
Member of Parliament Lembah Pantai
Vice President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat