In retrospect: notes from Malaysia’s signing into the TPPA

The TPPA has finally been signed today. Even if it makes little difference now, I’d like to point out how some of the pro-TPP arguments used to justify Malaysia’s signing are not valid. In addition, I have seen how anti-TPPA campaigners have been unjustly attacked, so I’m bringing this issue up too.

Justifications to sign

Achieving the “high income nation status”

“Given the current scenario, the high income nation status aspired to be achieved by 2020, it seems blurry if the TPP is not signed”
—International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (source)

High-income nation means that Malaysia’s average GDP per capita will be USD 15000. Given the current economic situation, this number seems to be very far off for the average Malaysian, right? Indeed, people nowadays must economize, what we afforded last year we can’t afford anymore, the quality of living has only decreased lately, not increased. Yet, since Malaysia’s GDP has increased, then why are Malaysians worse off? Simply because Malaysians are not sharing the benefits of bigger economic outputs, as their experience of last year’s economic decline clearly shows. So then, what’s in it for them?

TPP may only aggravate this problem. As Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram has indicated that, once the TPP comes into force, unemployment and inequality may actually rise, making the average Malaysian even worse off.


Malaysia will not get unjustifiably sued by investors

“With governance and rule of law, there is very little to fear over this [being sued through ISDS].”
—MITI secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria (source)

Governance and rule of law are not enough to not be sued using ISDS. Simply consider two recent cases from the United States:

  • TransCanada Corp launched US$15-billion lawsuit against the U.S. government for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. Why was it rejected? Based on a 7-year long study of its environmental impacts and economic benefits, the US Government considered that the pipeline was not in the interest of the country.

  • Monsanto filed a lawsuit to stop California from listing glyphosate—the main ingredient in its widely used weedkiller, Roundup—as a known carcinogen. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)’s decision to add glyphosate to the state’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer came after the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm declared that glyphosate was a “possible carcinogen” in March 2015.

What wrong did the US Government and the State of California do? Trying to protect the environment, trying to protects its citizens from a carcinogen. And yet, they got sued. So governance and rule of law are not enough. If the investor feels to have been treated unfairly, they have the legal right to sue the country.


Attack to anti-TPPA campaigners

Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive of think-tank IDEAS, has repeatedly attacked anti-TPPA campaigners. Below are some of the things he said, and my response to them.

From Lessons from the TPPA debate:

“The anti-liberalisation movement operates globally and has never failed to mobilise demonstrations when major trade deals are being decided.”

The activists campaigning against the TPP came all together because of their shared opposition to the TPP, not because they are “anti-liberalisation”. And there is no need to suggest that this is a globally coordinated effort: activists are mostly Malaysians, with the BantahTPPA coalition being lead by MTEM, an organization which champions local Malay economic issues.

“Their strategy is almost always the same globally. Focus on spreading doubts and fear. Repeat the same mantra over and over again.”

Both pro and against-TPP sides have their own fears and are expressing them to get supporters. Is expressing one’s fears called fear mongering? If that were the case, shouldn’t trade minister Mustapa Mohamed also be accused of spreading fear? Mustapa said: “We [the federal government] want the country to be more progressive, but I am worried that the country will slip should it take the path of anti-foreign investment and anti-trade [by rejecting the trade pact].” Possibly Mr Wan Saiful will think this fear is reasonable. Is Charles Santiago’s fear of price of medicine going up unreasonable?

“Tell the public that the issue is too complex for anybody to understand it all.”

Yes, the TPP is complex. It is 6000 pages long, written in an ambiguous language, and it was released to the public less than 3 months ago. That’s why you rely on experts, who have followed the negotiations and analyzed the text, to communicate to the public in a manner that they can understand (and that, I assume, is something think-tanks do). How is this a problem?

“If one issue is answered, quickly move on to the next one without acknowledging the clarification for the earlier issue.”

Charles Santiago issued 15 questions concerning the TPP to Mustapa, and even offered Mustapa to debate these on either FMT or MITI. I believe that Mustapa did not address any of these 15 questions, completely ignoring Charles Santiago’s valid request.

The assertion that responses have been given is clearly false to those who are looking for the responses. “If Saiful can’t confidently tell me, without an iota of doubt, that prices of medicines won’t increase after the TPPA, then he should shut his mouth,” said Charles Santiago. However, it is not clear to people out there, those reading the newspapers and trying to get sense of the situation from what the contenders are saying. That’s why this assertion is made: to make people believe that all concerns about the TPP have been answered, that all opposing parties have been proved wrong. It doesn’t matter if answers have actually been provided or not, but the perception of it by the people.

For more insights on strategies on how to blur a debate, I will invite the reader to read acclaimed book Merchants of Doubt, or watch the documentary based on the book.

“Use selective data and statistics, and discredit others’ studies using any means necessary.”

Economic expert Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former Assistant Secretary-General in the United Nations. Dr Jomo has analyzed in great detail the effects of the TPPA, even co-authoring the working paper “Trading Down: Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement”. This study concluded that the TPP would lead to employment losses and higher inequality in all countries.

Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, was addressing Najib when he wrote “the big winners are corporate interests in the US, the big losers are ordinary citizens, both in the US and elsewhere.”

When BantahTPPA states that the TPP serves the interests of the wealthiest, that is none of their conclusions, they are just quoting Joseph Stiglitz. When they state that the TPP will not improve economic welfare for Malaysians, it is none of their findings, they are just quoting Dr Jomo.

I believe we can trust both Dr Jomo and Joseph Stiglitz to be reliable sources of analysis. Or will Mr Wan Saiful imply that his capabilities in economy are better than theirs? What are Mr Wan Saiful’s own credentials to suggest that Dr Jomo and Joseph Stiglitz got it all wrong and he got it all right?

“The anti-liberalisation activists campaigned loud and long enough to create the impression that they represent public opinion.”

The irony is that people have never, ever, been asked if they want Malaysia to join the TPP. Negotiations have been secret, and the decision to join has been taken exclusively by BN’s MPs. People have been utterly left out of the picture, no say whatsoever.

Since Mr Wan Saiful implies that his stance represents the will of the people, then shouldn’t he have expressed his support to PAS’ proposal to have a public referendum, to ask Malaysians to cast their vote and decide to join the TPP or not?


From Be wary of anti-TPP ideologies:

“They usually start by saying the TPP was negotiated in secret and therefore it must be bad. It does not matter how many times you explain to them that it is normal practice to negotiate the final deal before making it public.”

It is not true that negotiations are normally kept secret until the deal has been reached, but quite the opposite. This practice was started by US negotiators with the TPP, after their attempt to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas collapsed, back in 2005, due to strong opposition from an informed public. And it’s not because this is about trade that it must be kept secret, since even in the WTO the negotiation texts can be seen by the public.

If there’s nothing people might fear from it, why should the deal be kept secret? No proper response can be given to this question, since there really is none. So, please stop justifying the secrecy of the deal.


From TPP good but more research needed, says research group:

“They have been opposing it for years, before reading the actual text of the agreement”

The text had been leaked in Wikileaks and people had to do analyzing this incomplete version. What can they do, if the text is kept secret? Wait until the last moment when it’s released, and then examine it all in the less than 3 months given to them, until the deal is signed? How is this reasonable?

In addition, the final text happened to be quite similar to what had been leaked… So what is this complaint all about? Why doesn’t Mr Wan Saiful focus on what the campaigners are saying, instead of accusing them of incompetence for extracting information from a leaked version of the text?


While criticizing anti-TPPA activists, Mr Wan Saiful asks the average person to go read the TPP text all by themselves. He seems to suggest that doing so, instead of relying on others for its interpretation, will undoubtedly make us support the TPP. He seems to be unaware that, after reading the text, you can actually oppose what it says. If you do so, evidently you got it all wrong…

In article Study TPPA text without prejudice, Ideas tells rakyat, he said:

“We urge the Malaysian public to carefully study this document and they certainly must not be influenced by the anti-globalisation activists and politicians who are trying to score cheap points.”

I wonder if Mr Wan Saiful himself has actually read the full 6000+ pages of the TPP; if he has all skills needed to make sense of all of it (knowledge of law, economics, intellectual property, environmental issues, human rights, labour, history of previous trade agreements and how they were implemented, among others); if he has read all the footnotes, and tried to anticipate all the loopholes; if he can understand all ambiguous language used in the text (such as “comparable market outcome” to establish the biologics medicine monopoly’s term, which nobody knows what it means, and it won’t be known until 6 years from now).

I wonder if he really expects Malaysians to read the TPP and make sense of it. The TPP is not a text the average person reads and understands; instead, you rely on what the experts say about it. And there is not way around it. If you read it and understand all its implications, you can be safely considered an expert. To imply that Malaysia has 30 million experts is an oxymoron.

Experts such as Dr Jomo and Joseph Stiglitz have expressed what’s wrong with the TPP. Are these what Mr Wan Saiful calls “anti-globalisation activists”? Is Charles Santiago, whose aim is to have Malaysians be able to afford their needed medicine, what Mr Wan Saiful calls “politicians who are trying to score cheap points”? These are all highly respectable people; when they express their concerns on the TPP, you do expect people to pay attention to these concerns, make them personal even.

To ask these experts for their opinion on the TPP, that is reasonable. To ask the average person to go read the full text and make sense of it, that is not.

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