Don’t rush into signing TPPA – Gurdial Singh Nijar

Source: The Malaysian Insider

BY GURDIAL SINGH NIJAR

This is an open appeal to Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) and the government not to rush into signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

I participated in a rather high-level public forum on the TPPA last week organised by the prestigious Malaysian Economic Association. A clear conclusion was that the 6,300-paged, 30-chaptered agreement is very complex. It needs careful scrutiny.

Miti’s effort to simplify it is laudable.

But there are many minute details that beg for a more thorough analysis. Even more challenging are the cross references and inter-linkages across chapters. Surely Miti understands that this cries out for more – not less – time to study its implications.

There are countless complexities as identified by reputable lawyers, economists and indeed commentators from all disciplines; and from across all the 12 TPPA countries. Even an economic Nobel laureate has specifically warned Malaysia of the potential adverse effects.

Pause and ponder. Will medicine costs increase? Will jobs be lost? Will small and medium industries suffer growth? Could we be sued by foreign corporations for millions/billions if we require them to comply with environmental, health and other regulatory measures in the public interest?

Will our access to the internet be compromised? Will our proactive affirmative action measures be compromised in the long run? Will copyright provisions place a huge financial burden as we move to translate texts into Bahasa and other vernacular languages? Any other impacts for education?

So many unanswered questions. So much public unease. So little detailed analysis. So much division of opinion on each of these issues.

We have a cost benefit analysis (CAB) by a reputable firm. Has its implications been fully understood? Is its methodology sound – as questioned by other analysis? Is it making assumptions that are questionable – as pointed out by a former UN Secretary General in economic affairs, a Malaysian actually?

Is the CAB report an ex post facto (after the event) justification – as it was commissioned after the negotiations for the text were concluded?

Does Miti seriously believe that the public, including our busy parliamentarians (who must debate and decide in barely two weeks’ time) understand fully the financial, social, economic, political and other ramifications of this agreement? An agreement that could well affect our children and theirs too.

So I suggest that we set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to study the issue; and that there be a more informed, balanced and steady (time-wise) consultation with the public.

All this requires time. We have this time. Indeed there is no rush to signing the agreement. There is no immediate time limit for us to decide. It simply does not make sense to sign an agreement that could well affect us adversely.

Media reports indicate the US Congress is not likely to sign the TPPA until after the US federal elections in November and indications are that US lawmakers will want substantive changes.

So why rush in when even the US – whose template forms the pivot for the agreement – is tarrying awhile.

Even more disturbing are the pronouncements that this agreement is part of the US strategy to prevent China from knocking the US from its primacy hegemonic pedestal – as the prestigious US think tank, the Council for Foreign Relations – states in its March 2015 report. China is our largest trading partner.

President Obama made this clear in his State of the Union message: “China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do. You (members of Congress assembled before him) want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.”

So please Miti, show true leadership consonant with a viable, responsible and responsive functioning democracy. Let our people be brought into this decision- making in an acceptable participatory mode.

You must by now know that no single issue has ever caused such consternation among our people – of all races, religions, views and disciplines – surely there must be sufficient humility to acknowledge that you cannot possibly be the only repository of all learning and wisdom in this matter.

And please, refrain from labelling critics as misinformed, ignorant or anti-trade. If things are not as rosily painted as you make out, Malaysia will have to pay the price well beyond the period of the present leadership in Miti and the government. – January 15, 2016.

* Gurdial Singh Nijar is a professor in the Law Faculty, Universiti Malaya.


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