April 7, 2015
INTERNATIONAL Trade and Industry Ministry, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohd and Senator Abdul Wahid Omar, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, must both be warmly congratulated for their detailed informative briefings at the Town Hall meeting last Thursday at Matrade.
It was well attended and the ministers and officials encouraged free and frank discussions which were most welcome.
From all the press reports, it appears we have very little time left to decide on whether we want to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), or be left out in the cold, in just about three months, by July.
We are caught in this severe time constraint, despite Miti having had about 100 engagements and consultations, over the last several years. Nevertheless regrettably, out of the total of 29 chapters of the agreement, the negotiation process has been somewhat slow, despite Miti’s strenuous efforts to move faster.
Thus the TPPA negotiations have so far, only finalised 10 chapters. Another 10 chapters are substantially finalised, but the remaining nine chapters are surprisingly, still unsettled.
The pertinent questions that arise are: Firstly, why are we in this jam? and secondly, can we settle these outstanding issues satisfactorily and speedily, within this limited time of about three months?
The press reports show that some of these critical unsettled issues pertain to inter alia - International Property Rights, the Environment and the more critical and contentious issues like, state owned enterprises, government procurement, the bumiputra agenda and labour.
On most of the other major Issues, I presume that we can find common ground, with many of the like-minded countries, among the 12 nation group of free trade negotiating partners.
However, when it comes to ironing controversial and even sensitive issues that may be unique to Malaysia, we have to be more realistic and realise that:
> We have to give and take in our negotiations and cannot afford to be too rigid. Malaysians must accept that is the way in international negotiations;
> We can only ask for concessions, exclusions and so called “carve outs”, for reasonable periods of time and not forever; and
> We have to be more transparent and show our people and indeed all our partners and the whole world, that we are fair and reasonable.
Only then can Malaysia gain a “fair deal” and a win-win situation from these arduous TPPA negotiations.
In order for our own negotiators to be more successful, they must have the full support of the majority of Malaysians and not be unduly influenced and pushed to a corner by the small minority of vested business interest groups.
However, in winning over the majority support of the people, the Government has to take a stronger lead, in advising our people of the dire consequences of not signing the TPPA in the next three months. If we don’t decide to join the TPPA , we will be denied full access to the new Free Trade Area of about 800 million people, (excluding China for the time being), with a GDP of over US27 trillion (about RM101 trillion).
If we opt out of the TPPA, we will also find it much more difficult to break out from our present middle income trap. Our capacity to innovate and compete at higher levels, to increase our domestic and foreign investment, and to raise our technology, incomes, employment and quality of life, can be seriously affected.
If the Cabinet and Parliament do not decide by July, we will miss the boat to join the TPPA, by the target period of the third quarter, or by September.
We could progress greatly, especially for the majority of our people and in the longer term, by joining the TPPA. Or alternatively, we could regress, by mainly looking after the short-term and narrow minority interest, by opting out of the vital TPPA?
Hence, let’s take on the challenge to join the TPPA and progress, rather than reject the TPPA and then get stuck in the mud and steadily regress in our march to Vision 2020 and beyond.
So what will be our choice in the vital next few months?
I hope that Malaysians as a whole, will rise to the occasion and think big and out of the box, for the benefit of the majority of Malaysians – and not be unduly influenced by the minority vested interest groups, to the detriment of our beloved country.
TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM
ASLI Center of Public Policy Studies
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