A coalition of NGOs who are against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) believe that there are cabinet members and government officials who are finding a way out of the trade talks.
Known collectively as Bantah TPPA, this group has engaged government officers on this topic and believes that with significant public protest, it would be enough to nudge the Putrajaya to reconsider involvement in the TPPA.
“We are confident that there are those in cabinet and in government who are increasingly aware of this but they require the public to protest (so they can act).
“We have to remember that Thailand had once withdrew from free trade talks (with the United States)… on grounds that there were thousands protesting at the time.
“So please, help by showing up and helping our friends in cabinet who are looking for a way out of the negotiations,” its spokeperson, Badrul Hisham Shaharin, told Malaysiakini during a recent interview.
Bantah TPPA is organising a protest on October 11 to coincide with a visit by US secretary of state John Kerry, in place of President Barack Obama.
The Obama administration had initiated TPPA talks in 2010, involving 12 countries. Trade talks are expected to be concluded by year’s end.
Critics believe that the TPPA would not be in Malaysia’s best interests as the deal will circumvent protectionist economic policies and expose the federal government to suits by multinational corporations, among others.
Clues from previous FTAs
Little concrete information about the content of the TPPA is known as negotiations are held behind closed doors. However, BantahTPPA co-founder Anas Alam Faizli believes that past free trade deals by the US provide enough clues.
“Our team has studied previous free trade deals between the US and other countries. We found that there was less than five percent difference in content between them.
“In other words, the US will not deviate much from their ‘template’… this means we can expect that the TPPA will use the template for their previous FTAs (free trade agreements), albeit an upgraded version,” he said.
In view of declining foreign direct investments, Bantah TPPA is of the view that Putrajaya was looking to increase trade as a solution.
However, the coalition is also concerned about potential trade imbalance and that there is not enough empirical evidence to prove that FTAs will bring positive results to a developing country like Malaysia.
“In the case of Singapore, (the FTA) was signed in 2003. At the time, their trade deficit with the US was USD1 billion. Last year, the deficit was USD10 billion.
“Thus our trading will increase, but the question is: Where is the money flowing to?” explained Anas, who works in the oil and gas industry full time.
Free, or regulated trade?
Anas said that the TPPA document includes 26 chapters, of which only six are concerned with trading, while the rest concerns regulations – including provisions which allow a signatory to be liable to suits filed abroad by investors.
Badrul Hisham points out that Equador’s experience with US petroleum giant Chevron had led to the country’s residents being sued for mounting a 20-year legal battle against the company for environmental destruction.
“The myth is that FTAs will bring ‘free trade’ when it is in fact ‘regulated trade’,” summed up Anas.
For the past few weeks, BantahTPPA has been on a roadshow throughout the country to drum up support for the protest on Oct 11, but they are facing problems as the issues involving the TPPA are highly technical.
However, they are counting on the star power of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad and PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim to speak at the final stop of their roadshow at Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur on Oct 10.
At the time of writing, both men have formally received speaking invitations but they have yet to confirm attendance.