Source: The Malay Online
Anti-TPPA demonstrators outside Parliament on July 16, 2013 urge Malaysia to postpone its participation in the trade deal.
KUALA LUMPUR, August 21 — Anti-Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) groups are hoping to bank on the influence of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in its bid to force Putrajaya to suspend Malaysia’s involvement in the free trade agreement.
The former prime minister, a staunch protectionist, is scheduled to talk on the controversial subject at a roundtable meeting between interest groups this Monday and the Malay Economic Action Council (MTEM), one of the event organisers, said it expects Dr Mahathir’s presence to strengthen its case against the 12-nation trade pact.
“He is an experienced international leader and he has been consistent in his position on the matter.
“What we expect is for him to amplify what has been mentioned earlier,” group chief Mohd Nizam Mashar said a press conference here.
MTEM is a part of an unpredented coalition of right-wing and liberal groups which calls itself Badan Bertindak Bantah TPPA or Bantah TPPA (Oppose TPPA) which aims to lobby Putrajaya against signing a pact it deemed detrimental to Malaysia’s sovereignty and harmful local businesses.
The group of over 50 organisations that also include Suaram, Majlis Perundingan Islam Malaysia, Malaysian Aids Council, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) allege that the TPPA is aimed at expanding the business ambitions of US multinationals.
The group also believes its large membership carries enough threat of a potential political backlash to finally press the Najib administration to heed the myriad concerns raised in relation to the TPPA.
And with Dr Mahathir on board, Bantah could leverage on the former prime minister’s clout to force the government to engage the group and stall the next round of talks which is scheduled to take place in October.
“We want him to elaborate on this issue and we hope the government would listen to the former prime minister’s advice,” Mohd Nizam said.
Previously, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim went as far as to accuse the TPPA of being a tool to promote US hegemony since most of the clauses in the arrangement are aimed at limiting government roles while strengthening corporate dominance in trade policies.
One oft-cited fear was that the TPPA would inflate medicine prices as a result of stronger patent laws.
According to the group, the US had proposed a clause that would make it easier for big pharmaceutical corporations to patent medicine and obtain longer copyrights, which would render it more difficult for ordinary Malaysians to access affordable generic medicines.
Other concerns are the infringement of local labour rights and even domestic policies since the investor-state dispute settlement (ISD), the trade arbitration process under the agreement, would allegedly benefit companies more.
Bantah said a letter of protest has been submitted to the Cabinet, which is scheduled to hear a briefing on the TPPA by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) tomorrow.
“We have no more time, we are at the tail-end of the talks and we have been kept in the dark for the past two years and we need these concerns to be highlighted,” Nizam said.
Echoing calls made by Anwar and other opposition leaders, the group urged Putrajaya to suspend the talks until an impartial and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis and comparative advantage study are carried out and made public.
The group also agreed with opposition demands for the issue to be scrutinised in a Parliamentary Select Committee instead of the present multi-partisan caucus.
“The caucus doesn’t have any power unlike a select committee,” said Nizam.
Putrajaya has so far remain unmoved by the growing opposition to the TPPA, with International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (picture) insisting that the government would ensure it would only partake in the deal if it benefits Malaysia.
“The government will assure the Malaysian public that advancing national interest and safeguarding national sovereignty are our top priorities,” he said.
Mustapa said the Malaysian TPPA negotiation team included senior government officials from various ministries and government agencies who are experts in their respective fields.
He also said the ministry has taken note of public concerns on transparency and secrecy of the negotiations
But Bantah TPPA said Putrajaya has not been forthright with its engagement and that a proper dialogue between stakeholders and the government has been minimal.