MTUC concerns over FTAs deepen
Online Publication Date: 14 February 2012
By Fauwaz Abdul Aziz
president of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Khalid Atan
has expressed his belief that the time has come for the
800,000-strong workers’ movement to mobilise against the free trade
agreements that the government is negotiating.
is because of the many violations of rights that such agreements are
likely to entail, yet have been unaddressed by the government, said
is time for MTUC to act, to move” the unionist told an audience of
about 100 people on February 4 at a forum on free trade agreements
(FTAs) organised for congress members in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
said the General Council of the MTUC would meet soon to deliberate on
the next course of action over the European Union-Malaysia FTA and
the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) that the Malaysian
government is negotiating with the EU and eight other countries,
EU-Malaysia FTA is entering its eighth round of negotiations.
Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the EU to Malaysia, Vincent
Piket, had said in mid-January that he believes the agreement can be
signed between the EU and the Malaysian government by the end of this
to media reports, the nine TPP leaders – including Prime Minister
Najib Razak – had agreed in November last year to work to complete
the main text of a pact by July 2012.
half-day forum on Sunday saw several panellists presenting on the
EU-Malaysia FTA as well as the TPPA, particularly the history of
lopsided provisions in favour of corporate interests and the adverse
effects similar agreements have had on the interests and welfare of
people, especially workers and vulnerable segments of society.
himself, in his opening address, lamented that the trade union
representatives of workers who will bear the brunt of the costs of
the EU-Malaysia FTA and TPPA have not been consulted by the
are they so secretive?” he queried.
is feared, Khalid added, is that given the negotiations between
Malaysia and the other parties to the talks have lacked transparency
and consultation with all stakeholders, the agreements eventually
signed behind closed doors will spell disaster for workers' rights
and people dependent on affordable access to medicines and medical
is clear is that these two advanced (groups of) countries (EU and the
US), these economic giants, will assert their interests at the
expense of less developed countries.”
during the forum were significantly irked when not one representative
of the EU delegation to Malaysia, the Malaysian Ministry of
International Trade and Industry or the Human Resources Ministry
showed up despited having been officially invited by MTUC to present
their perspectives on the issues raised over the EU-Malaysia FTA and
anger over the officials' absence, Khalid asked: “What are they
trying to prove? What are they trying to hide from us? … Are they
trying to hide certain facts so that the people are in the dark?”
Khalid, Member of Parliament for Klang, Charles Santiago, shared his
knowledge of the development of the EU's global trade strategies and
the motivations behind the EU's insistence on signing FTAs with ASEAN
countries, even following the collapse of talks several years ago
over a proposed EU-ASEAN FTA.
the competition between EU, Japan, China and US for market access.
They (EU) see they don't have a presence in Asia. That's why they're
FTAs are the battlefield for market access,” said Santiago.
also raised concerns that government procurement as a policy tool to
achieve socio-economic objectives in the interests of Malaysian
companies would be unavailable following the signing of FTAs that
include provisions for government procurement to be opened up to
companies from those countries that are parties to the agreement.
pointed out that the government has kept mum over the possibility
that it would liberalise government procurement, a proposition that
would not go down well with the electorate.
addition to the significant implications for workers following the
signing of the EU-Malaysia and TPPA free trade agreements, Santiago
said the likely price rise of medicines and medical treatments would
have adverse consequences on Malaysians' quality of life and
Arumugam from the FTA Coalition of various organizations advocating
on the EU-Malaysia FTA and the TPPA, added further details relating
to the actual results of trade liberalisation via tariff reduction
elsewhere around the world.
Sivarajan cited, lost one-third of its domestic jobs in manufacturing
following the implementation of tariff reductions, while Zambia saw
employment fall by 40% in five years following similar trade
the case of Malaysia and the EU, the reduction of export taxes on
Malaysian raw materials will have implications for local industries,
given the high-technology capacity and production capacity of EU
countries in exporting, for instance, furniture made from Malaysian
in the Malaysian furniture industry face job cuts if their companies
are unable to compete with EU companies importing raw materials
cheaply to re-export finished products such as furniture back to
Malaysia, said Sivarajan.
furniture makers can also lose market share in the EU and third
countries if it has to remove export taxes on raw materials like
Li Ching of Third World Network, meanwhile, warned of the
consequences if Malaysia signs onto agreements that allow
corporations to sue the government directly if a policy or law were
put in place in the public interest but is seen by the company as
infringing on their ability to maximise their profits.
recounted the suit by tobacco company Philip Morris against the
government of Uruguay for the latter's actions over cigerette packet
labeling, as well as gave other examples of corporations using the
investment provision of FTAs to sue governments for health and
environmental regulatory measures.
Abdul Rahman of Harm Reduction International, in her presentation,
noted that it is a myth that foreign investors are moved to invest in
those countries that sign FTAs with the US and EU.
direct investments, according to studies, rise and fall in a country
by virtue of other factors – such as its infrastructure,
language(s) spoken, human resource capabities, etc. – rather than
FTAs per se, said Fifa.
Low of the Positive Malaysian Treatment Access & Advocacy Group
(MTAAG+) raised worries over intellectual property (IP) provisions in
FTAs and cited findings that medicines and medical treatment have
been made more expensive following the enforcement of IP legislation
as contained in such trade agreements.
his own personal situation, Low pointed out that people living with
HIV/AIDS are dependent on generic medicines to survive, but face a
stark future if such medicines are rendered unavailable or
unaffordable due to the imposition of stricter patent regulations on
Hoda of reform movement Aliran called on members of the audience not
to leave the forum without resolving to inform their family members
and friends about what they had learned about the EU-Malaysia FTA and
the fact that the governments of Malaysia and the EU had declined to
tell their side of the story at the forum, Sarajun said that the
people “cannot let the FTAs happen” without making clear their