Should we be afraid of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

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On July 15, 2013, 11 nations from across the Asia-Pacific rim will congregate in Kuala Lumpur for the 18th round of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP).

The session - which could potentially be one of the last (there is talk that the participating nations want to finalise the text by October 2013) - will see representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, the United States, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam and newcomer Japan, join their Malaysian counterparts to debate and discuss the eventual text of this plurilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

The TPP has been a magnet for criticism from a host of groups and organisations across all the participating nations - be it anti-trade liberalisation, political opposition groups, small and medium business enterprises or ordinary citizens in general who find the secrecy surrounding the negotiations disconcerting.

Depending on who you ask, you may hear that the TPP is a ploy by big business to have unlimited and unregulated access to global markets aided by pandering governments more concerned about appeasing them than protecting their citizens.

Still, others are convinced that the TPP is a geopolitical game driven by the United States to counter China’s rise in the region by limiting its progress in the Asia-Pacific region.

Those who are pro-trade liberalisation say that FTAs level the playing field, which by extension, enhances competition ultimately leading to better quality products at lower prices.

This is especially relevant for a nation like Malaysia, which has an export-driven economy and a small population.

So which is it? Is it one or the other, or a bit of all of the above?

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