The Malaysian parliament has voted yes to signing and ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Both houses of parliament are dominated by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition so the vote is no surprise. There is, however, significant public opposition to the agreement – also referred to as the TPPA – and all the opposition MPs voted against.
The motion to sign and ratify the agreement was passed on Wednesday in a bloc vote in the Dewan Rakyat (lower house) after a two-day sitting. A total of 127 MPs voted in favour of the motion while the 84 members of the opposition voted against. The Senate gave the accord its green light yesterday via a voice vote.
“Done, just like that,” the Democratic Action Party (DAP) MP for Klang, Charles Santiago, tweeted. “Despite alarm bells being raised, all brushed aside.”
Membership of the TPP will require Malaysia to make 26 amendments in 17 of its national laws. This process is expected to take two years.
The country’s International Trade and Industry Minister, Seri Mustapa Mohamad, says these amendments will not affect the nation’s key policies, such as those involving Bumiputera status (special privileges afforded to Malays).
“Instead, the amendments will adopt best practices in labour, environment, and intellectual property rights,” he said in his speech while tabling the TPP motion.
The government says the TPP will strengthen Malaysia’s regional and global competitiveness, but critics of the agreement say it will be a disaster for the environment and will make governments more vulnerable to lawsuits by corporations that allege a loss of profits because of a particular law or policy.
The agreement has been condemned worldwide. Opponents say it is a geopolitical tool being used by the US in its trade battle with China.
Vice-president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), Iskandar Abdul Samad (pictured left), says the TPP is “back-door economic colonisation” by the US.
He says the protest against the agreement is not political. “This is about the people of Malaysia. We are against the TPPA because we fear that, if we sign it, it is as if we are signing off our independence.”
More than 5,000 Malaysians turned out on Saturday to protest against the agreement.
Speakers at Saturday’s rally in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, pointed to the need to protect Malaysian sovereignty and the country’s economic future and demanded that the government reject the accord.
The vice-president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party), Chua Tian Chang – better known as Tian Chua – says there is no proof that Malaysia will derive any economic benefit from the TPP.
One risk that Tian Chua (pictured left) and others highlight is that of medical costs increasing because of reduced access to generic medicines.
Tian Chua says the TPP is not a trade agreement at all. “It is not about investment. It’s about the sovereignty of our nation. We will see Malaysia lose its democratic rights; the right to determine our own economic development.”
Expert on trade and investment rules Sanya Reid-Smith, who is the legal advisor and senior researcher at the international coalition the Third World Network, said at a recent NGO briefing about the TPP in Malaysia that the 6,350-page agreement has 24 non-trade chapters.
Twenty-four of the thirty chapters were about Malasyia’s laws and regulations: “environmental laws, labour laws, and intellectual property laws that affect medicine prices and text books; the ability of state and local governments to regulate”, she explained.
The DAP MP Liew Chin Tong (pictured left) says the TPP will not help Malaysia end its current vicious cycle of low wages, low skills and low productivity. The argument that the agreeement will generate higher investment is fictional, he says.
Any benefits in such sectors as textiles and the automobile industry will be insignificant, Liew says.
Chairman of the People’s Congress NGO grouping, Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid (pictured below, left), says the TPP promises more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), more exports, and more market opportunities, but these are only potential outcomes. There are no guarantees, he says, but the negative impacts are almost certain.
Many critics of the TPP argue that small and medium-sized enterprises will be among the worst hit if the TPP takes effect.
The TPP agreement, which involves 12 Pacific Rim nations – the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam – was reached in October last year. Negotiations to establish the world’s largest free-trade zone were conducted behind closed doors.
The agreement is scheduled to be signed off by all member countries in New Zealand on February 4. A protest march is planned in the New Zealand city of Auckland on that day.
The TPP still needs to be passed by the US Congress and could still be derailed by opposition within the US itself. There is significant opposition to the TPP among both Democrats and Republicans.