MP SPEAKS Late last year, Agriculture Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek was very focused on publicly promoting the idea of achieving, what he called “food sovereignty” for Malaysia.
According to the minister, “food sovereignty” is a policy of strategic importance for Malaysia to produce our own food to feed our population so as to not become dependent on imported food supplies.
However, since the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) was released, little more have been said on achieving “food sovereignty”, and there has been almost no public engagement by the Agriculture Ministry on the benefits of TPPA on the local rice industry.
Shockingly to this date, the government, either through the Agriculture Ministry or the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti), or via the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada), or the local Farmers Organisation Authority (PPK), have totally failed to engage, consult and brief the local stakeholders involved, in particular the rice farmers, rice millers’ associations or even rice traders in Kedah, on the impact of TPPA.
I am shocked at the lack of government engagement as rural rice farmers and millers are perceived as one of the ruling party’s most important and valued group of voters.
First of all, under the free trade agreement, Malaysia will have to gradually eliminate all its import tariffs on rice from other TPPA countries, over a period of 11 years.
Furthermore, the threat of losing our national control or power/“food sovereignty” in regulating our own food industry in order to protect our rice farmers and millers under the TPPA is very serious.
Under the TPPA, a host of measures currently applied by Malaysia to protect the local rice industry may be viewed by other TPPA member states as trade restrictions violating the TPPA, whereby Malaysia may be forced to remove after joining TPPA.
The Agriculture Ministry needs to clarify whether Malaysia’s price controls which ensure that imported rice is more expensive than Malaysian rice can continue given the requirement to treat imported rice at least as well as domestic rice under the TPPA.
Secondly, it is imperative for the Agriculture Ministry to clarify whether under the TPPA, we will have the right to replace or terminate Bernas’s role as the ‘sole’ importer of rice in the country, or perpetually maintain Bernas as a monopoly in the rice industry.
Lastly, an equally important question the ministry must answer is what will happen after Bernas’s concession agreement with the government, expires in six years time on 2021.
In particular, the ministry must explain whether the practice of buying local rice first, then buying foreign rice second (as a means of protecting the local rice industry) by a designated monopoly established in the future or state-owned enterprises (SOE), will be prohibited under the TPPA.
I hope the government will not in its haste in wanting to conclude the TPPA, cast aside and forget our rice farmers, millers and other stakeholders in the rice sector. I urgently request the ministry to provide immediate answers to my questions above, in particular during the Parliament sitting on Jan 26 next week for us to decide whether or not to support the TPPA, as they have potentially devastating implications to our local rice industry.
GOOI HSIAO LEUNG is Member of Parliament, Alor Setar, PKR supreme council member and Kedah PKR deputy chairperson.