This Tiger is a bit too young to really remember the good old days before the Asian Financial Crisis, when the Malaysian economy was strong enough to be known as a so-called ‘Asian tiger’.
Unfortunately, that reputation - much like most of the actual wild cat population - has long since disappeared.
Every now and again though, we remember those good old days and begin strategising as to how we might be able to recapture the lost glory. One such plan, it seems, is to expand the market for exports by signing on to free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) to bolster and better trade.
However, the decision to enter into negotiations and eventually sign on to this agreement has raised howls of protest from a wide spectrum of groups who fear that by joining the TPPA pack, Malaysia might find itself in trap.
Nonetheless from prowling around, it seems to Tiger that while there are genuine concerns that must be addressed, there are also a lot of misconceptions that need to be cleared up. The problem is that with many of the issues, fact and fiction seem so closely intertwined.
So here are the ten myths that Tiger has sniffed out and highlighted together with some genuine concerns that might be tied to it.
1. The country will suffer because of the TPPA
On the contrary, not focusing on trying to open up foreign markets to our exports is much more likely to stagnate growth. Given Malaysia’s small population, we simply cannot rely solely on the local market to sustain our economy.
We must remember that if the TPPA nations can come to a consensus, then this agreement will create the largest free trade area (in terms of combined gross domestic product, or GDP) in the world.
Furthermore, if it is true that regional neighbours such as Thailand, the Philippines and even China might be looking into joining the TPPA, then Malaysia really cannot afford to be left out.
2. No engagement has been done
The International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) has consulted and conducted engagement. They have met with stakeholders and briefed groups they think are relevant to the process.
Other participating ministries, such as health, finance, environment and human resources, among others, have also engaged with their own stakeholders. So, saying that there has been no engagement is probably unfair.
Perhaps the quality of the engagements that have been undertaken by Miti and the other relevant ministries could be better. With regards to this, it is not too late and Miti as well as the other ministries should proactively approach stakeholders to explain and discuss the ins and outs of the proposals being tabled
3. Only Miti is involved in TPPA
While Miti usually leads negotiations as a whole, it is mostly only in charge of sections related to trade and market access.
Other sectors are led by the relevant ministries; government procurement for an instance actually falls under the purview of the Finance Ministry, while labour rights issues come under the Human Resources Ministry.
As such, these ministries too have a role to play in educating and engaging their relevant stakeholders.
Miti often appears alone in a jungle full of predators and its fellow ministries should back it up when questions relevant to their areas of expertise crop up. It may also help if each ministry, if not explaining benefits, at least justifies why the TPPA won’t harm us.
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This TigerTalk article was written by Stephanie Jacob.