On fear mongering and the TPP

During the days prior to the vote on the TPP in Parliament, there had been some accusations from TPP supporters to the against-TPP side, on creating fear mongering against TPP, such as: Fear of being sued not good enough reason to reject TPPA, says ministry sec-gen.

Let me please point out a few things that trade minister Mustapa said on his speech on day 1 of the debate and vote on the TPP in Parliament:

“Given the current scenario, the high income nation status aspired to be achieved by 2020, it seems blurry if the TPP is not signed” (source)

“We (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)” (source)

This is what Klang MP Charles Santiago had expressed on why he opposes the TPP, among other reasons:

“Extending the patent rights of pharmaceutical companies would undermine competition from generic medicine. It would allow the patent owners to extend their monopolies and continue charging exorbitant prices for live-saving drugs.” (source)

“The ISDS allows for a foreign investor to sue governments in a tribunal if it deems a certain country is interfering with its profit margin. This essentially undermines democracy as it gives tycoons more power than those who have been elected by the people.” (source)

Does these sound like fear mongering to me? Yes, they do. Both of them. Yet, these fears are valid and perfectly justifiable. Indeed, both pro and against-TPP sides do fear things, and they are just expressing them. What the trade minister fears is that the country will lose out on economic terms if not signing to the TPP. What Charles Santiago fears is that, if signing to the TPP, the price of medicine will go up and people won’t be able to afford it anymore, and that democracy will be further undermined.

Are these fears driven by ideology? Absolutely. Everyone is driven by ideology, you like it or not. It’s incredibly naïve to accuse the other side of being driven by ideology but claim to be oneself driven by the truth. Those accusations can simply be dismissed as just a strategy to deviate attention away from the actual content of the issue, the actual meat.

So let’s discuss the meat. How valid are these fears? Actually, how valid are them from the rakyat’s perspective?

Charles Santiago is worried about the price of medicine. What happens if you have a relative with breast cancer or HIV? You might well know that your family must chip in to buy the medicine, since the Ministry of Health in Malaysia is already unable to subsidize all medicine for all Malaysians. What happens after signing into TPP? Will the price of medicine will go up? Most likely. There are facts and figures to justify this position, and there is no need to dismiss this—in fact, New Zealand’s Prime Minister has acknowledged that prices will go. As Charles Santiago remarked, how could prices in New Zealand go up yet not in Malaysia? It doesn’t make sense, right?

So, in my opinion, Charles Santiago’s fears justifiable from the rakyat’s point of view. We all might get sick, or have relatives or friends who’ll get sick, and we need affordable medicine.

What about Tok Pa’s fears on Malaysia not becoming a high-status income nation?

During 2015, the implementation of GST, continued withdrawals of subsidies, and falling ringgit have meant a steady increase in the cost of living for the average Malaysian, with the lower segments being hit the hardest. When Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan suggested to Malaysians to work 2 jobs to make ends meet, many Malaysians actually replied: “We already are working 2 shifts, and yet we can’t make ends meet!”.

The idea of high-income nation brings to me a notion of Europe: people being economically well off, with enough money for leisure spending, like going to a concert, consuming culture, etc. Yet, given the current economic situation for the average Malaysia, this seems well far off. Indeed, people must economize, what we afforded last year we can’t afford anymore, so the quality of living has only decreased lately, not increased. If the GDP has increased, then why are Malaysians worse off? Why are they not sharing the benefits? If Malaysians are not going to benefit from the extra economic output, then what is it in it for them? Indeed, Jomo Kwame Sundaram has indicated that, due to the TPP, unemployment and inequality may actually rise, making the average Malaysian even worse off.

So, seen in this context, to tell your average Malaysian, who is fighting each month to make ends meet, having to work 2 or even 3 jobs, to support the TPP so that Malaysia can become a high-status income nation seems to me not justifiable, and disconnected from reality.

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