Malaysiakini Letter

Int’l trade minister clueless on US politics, or misleading Parliament?

Howard Lee Chuan How  |  Published:  |  Modified:

The comment made by International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed on the possible election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States would mean the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), simply shows either his ignorance, or his lack of knowledge of US politics and current affairs .

In an article I posted more than a week ago, titled ‘Top 4 US presidential candidates oppose TPPA; It may not be a ‘done deal’ after all’. I stated the conditions of the US primaries of which are still valid right now, with five candidates left in both the Republican and the Democratic fields.

Based on the minister’s logic, which is flawed, TPPA is dead regardless of whether Trump wins or loses. Campaigning stances to Primaries voters made by all four frontrunners - Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on the Republican side- it is certain that the next US president is against TPPA.

This shows his lack of understanding of the US legislative system; the president and the federal government (the executive branch) of the United States cannot make laws, and Congress (the US bicameral parliament) acts separately and independently of the president. The president can veto legislations but Congress can overturn the veto with a two-third majority.

The US system, for better or worse, is not a Westminster system. Neither houses of Congress necessarily reflect or mirror the president’s political affiliation. Both houses of Congress right now are Republican-controlled (with a comfortable 29 seat majority) , though the sitting President Barack Obama, a Democrat, does not even come close to controlling Congress.

To say that a Congress under Trump would be a Congress that will vote down TPPA is a juvenile mistake certainly not one that should be made by a minister.

The immediate question at hand, if we had to speculate on the fate of US side of the TPPA, it will mean predicting the elections of the entire lower house of Congress and the one-third of Senate seats up for re-election in November, which could bring a completely different set of power dynamics.

Which is why in my article last week, I merely stated that it is not a done deal, and neither did I make assertions of a sure-thing impending collapse of the TPPA.

A long way from being buried

In conclusion and reality, TPPA is a long way away from being buried. If the minister is sincere in his answer to Parliament, of TPPA likely meeting its demise, he is misinformed and incompetent for not knowing the basic governance structure of a prospective trading partner nation.

There is however a more worrying possibility. Could the minister be misleading the August House of an impending demise of the TPPA, so for voices of opposition towards the TPPA would go quietly into the night?

Either way, it is sad and most worrying for Malaysians. I would strongly recommend that the minister get better clued up if he was to engage in trade negotiations of this magnitude, and respect the August Malaysian Parliament by not offering misleading answers.

For those interested, the current field of presidential candidates presents the following possibilities;

Hillary Clinton helped to pass the North American Free Trade Area (Nafta, a trade deal similar to TPPA) into law, but has recently presented herself to Democratic primary voters as though she is against it as well as TPPA. Bernie Sanders has consistently voted against trade bills of the nature. Donald Trump says that he’s against TPPA-like legislation but he has no actual voting-record to track or gauge his sincerity.

TPPA and TTIP (the European equivalent of TPPA), will most likely be voted on after the elections and will very likely be passed as law, unless there is an overwhelming shift in Congress.

If Bernie Sanders wins the election, it is likely that he will do everything possible to bring about TPPA’s demise. Clinton may talk a strong opposing game but may not lift a finger to oppose it if Congress passes the TPPA.

On the other side, Cruz is not worth mentioning though he did vote against an earlier TPPA ‘enabling legislation’ named ‘Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority’. But Trump, with nothing other than a track record of incoherent policy stands and monumental flip flops (Trump has donated a large sum of money to Hillary Clinton before) is a big question-mark.

I would certainly like to see TPPA die a quiet death. Which is why, among many other reasons, I as a fellow leftist, am in solidarity to Bernie Sanders who is facing an uphill battle against ‘the establishment’ and his fight against TPPA. I wish him progress and success.


HOWARD LEE CHUAN HOW is Perak DAP Socialist Youth (Dapsy) chief and state assemblyperson for Pasir Pinji, Perak.

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