CARETAKER international trade and industry (MITI) minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali has been slammed for “quietly sneaking out” a letter that paved the way for Malaysia to ratify a contentious free trade agreement that saw massive protests in the past.
Earlier this month, Malaysia finally signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade bloc among 11 countries that aims to reduce trade barriers and facilitate trade among member states.
This followed Putrajaya’s submission of the instrument of ratification for the agreement to the CPTPP depositary, New Zealand, on Sept 30, 2022, which was announced by MITI on Oct 5.
In its statement, MITI said the ratification took place after years of detailed deliberation, extensive consultations and careful assessment by the Government, adding that its cost-benefit analysis (CBA) shows it was clear that the benefits of signing the deal far outweigh any potential costs in its implementation.
However, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) condemned Azmin’s “underhanded tactic”, pointing out that previous attempts to get Putrajaya to ratify such trade agreements, such as the Bush administration’s US-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement and former US president Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), were “vehemently protested” here.
“There were massive protests against the TPPA since 2010 when MITI started negotiations,” noted PSM secretary-general A. Sivarajan in a statement.
He added that even though the TPPA agreement was signed by the Datuk Seri Najib Razak administration in February 2016, it remained unenforceable when the US, under former president Donald Trump, pulled out of the agreement in 2017.
“The US’ move crushed MITI’s hopes that Malaysia would be able to increase its exports to the US,” Sivarajan explained. “But even the TPPA would have led to more imports than exports.”
The CPTPP, which Sivarajan said is a “rebranded” TPPA with some provisions suspended, was signed back in March 2018 by the Najib administration.
Sivarajan also questioned the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) CBA, saying it has “gaps” and “many questionable claims of benefits”.
“Without a truly comprehensive CBA done by Putrajaya after the US’ exit from the trade agreement, Malaysia only stands to lose if it pursues to ratify and implement the trade agreement,” he claimed.
He argued that ratifying the CPTPP would mean that:
- Malaysia’s trade imports could increase to more than USD 2 bil a year compared to exports when import tariffs are brought down to 0%.
- Job losses are expected when Malaysia is flooded with imported products at more competitive prices compared to local small and medium-sized enterprise (SME)-manufactured products.
- Increased imports of agricultural products, which will destroy the livelihood of local agro-food producers.
- CPTPP requires that Malaysia signs up to the 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) convention, which prohibits seed sharing amongst local farmers, making them beholden to large agro corporations to procure their seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
- Wide power granted to foreign investors under CPTPP that would tie the Government’s hands to implement affirmative action to the rakyat.
- Corporations are empowered to sue the Malaysian Government if it does not honor the rights given to their investments as per the CPTPP.
“Thus, PSM joins civil society organisations and the rakyat to reject the ratification of the CPTPP and demand that Putrajaya immediately withdraws from this regressive trade agreement,” Sivarajan said.
He added that it was “extremely irresponsible” of Azmin and MITI to submit the instrument for ratification of the CPTPP days before the dissolution of Parliament on Oct 10, thus placing the burden on the new Government to “undo this betrayal to the rakyat”.
“We call on all the 15th General Election (GE15) candidates to reject the CPTPP and carry out all measures to leave the trade agreement once and for all,” he said further. – Oct 30, 2022
Main photo credit: Malay Mail