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Harapan gov't must withdraw from ratifying CPTPP

Wong Chen, Nurul Izzah Anwar and Charles Santiago  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS | It is nothing but a rebranding exercise.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) doesn’t add any benefit to the poor, terminally-ill, women or even governments.

Rising from the ashes of the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), which was tanked by US President Donald Trump, the new trade deal will instead have serious implications for Malaysia.

And this is why the Pakatan Harapan government needs to withdraw from ratifying the CPTPP.

However flowery the re-worded deal is, assuming it’s so as all past negotiations were carried out in secret and we are yet to see the new documents, the CPTPP is all out to seduce the US back to the negotiating table in the next years.

The main change is that 20 provisions of the original pact, backed chiefly by the US, have been suspended.

The suspension, and not removal of these regressive provisions, is not a reason for celebration as they can be reinstated to please the American administration.

Cost of life-saving medicines to skyrocket

The CPTPP still requires enforcement of patents, including on medicines, that are significantly stronger than what the WTO’s TRIPS rules require (WTO-Plus) which would have adverse implications for access to medicines.

This would see the cost of life-saving medicines skyrocket as a result of patent protections that safeguard the interests of large pharmaceutical companies at the expense of average Malaysian citizens.

The extended patent on new medicine would choke entry of the cheaper generic medicine, cutting short the life of terminally ill Malaysians.

What would happen if the Malaysian government wants to ensure the poor continue to have access to affordable medicine as promised in its National Medicines policy?

Chances are it would face a suit from a multinational pharmaceutical, under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which would say the move takes a hit on its profits.

Malaysia’s Health Ministry recently announced that it would provide a twelve-week Egyptian generic treatment for Hepatitis C for the half a million patients in the country.

Would this be allowed under the new trade deal or disallowed, requiring the government to pay the full RM360,000 per US patented treatment instead of RM1,300?

The ISDS allows foreign investors to skirt national laws and challenge governments at arbitration tribunals to demand huge compensation, paid through taxpayer’s money, if these companies believe public policies affect their profits.

A striking example was when the Swedish nuclear company, Vattenfall, took a case against Germany for pollution measures, and the German government settled and agreed to lower pollution controls rather than continue with ISDS.

The Harapan government’s ability to implement public policies to regulate public health, like plain packaging that act as a warning to smokers on cigarette packets, is also questionable as the tobacco company can drag it to a private arbitration.

No government wants to go through an ISDS as the outcomes of these claims are unpredictable, not to mention the stranglehold over elected parliaments and national courts by multinational corporations.

Restricting moves to improve policies

As such, decisions of governments to regulate human rights are influenced by the threat of an investor claim.

We were voted into power based on our reform agenda. Can we seriously keep our promises to the people with the constant threat to the sovereignty of the country hanging above our heads?

Harapan’s move to improve labour standards and practices in the country, seen as vital to weed out trafficking activities, can also land Malaysia in an ISDS if it's seen to have a negative impact on the value of the investment.

The former BN-led government made a mockery of women’s contribution to progress by signing the CPTPP on International Women’s Day, last year.

This is despite the fact that the trade agreement would promote labour competition and women’s low wages as a source of competitive advantage for corporations, besides threatening their access to public services through the reduction of tariffs that deprives governments of important revenue.

So, there is nothing progressive about the CPTPP except literally in the name.

And even the bait of the 1.2 percent GDP growth for the country doesn’t bite anymore after Trump pulled the plug.

WONG CHEN, NURUL IZZAH ANWAR and CHARLES SANTIAGO are members of the TPPA caucus in Parliament. They are also the MPs for Subang, Permatang Pauh and Klang, respectively.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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