Fate of TPPA may depend on the people


Source: The Star Online

Time for FeedbackREMEMBER the Employees Provident Fund’s proposal to raise the age for full withdrawal of a contributor’s savings from 55 to 60? As soon as that idea was floated in April this year, people were eager to give their views.

About 96,500 EPF members responded to an online survey ran by the fund over two weeks to gauge their receptiveness to this idea and other new measures.

More than half of this number was achieved within the first two days, prompting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to describe it at that point as “already the largest ever public consultation carried out”.

And the result? An overwhelming majority of the respondents (94.4%) want the withdrawal age to stay at 55. And so it remains that way.

Malaysians need to again speak up in big numbers. Actually, they should always be ready to do so, but this time, there is a particularly strong reason – the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

On Monday – more than five years after negotiations started – officials from Malaysia and 11 other countries have come up with a pact that is likely to be debated vigorously within each of these countries before the governments sign it.

There is a lot at stake. The TPPA is a “comprehensive, 21st century free-trade agreement” that sets the rules for trade among its signatories. But here, the scope is much wider than in other trade agreements.

The partnership, according to the US government, the prime mover of this initiative, does not only update traditional approaches to issues covered by previous free trade agreements; it also incorporates new and emerging trade issues and cross-cutting issues.

As such, the TPPA also covers areas such as investment, electronic commerce, government procurement, intellectual property, labour and the environment.

It is a measure of the TPPA’s breadth that the Malaysian negotiating team comprises experts from more than 20 ministries and agencies. Clearly, the agreement will affect our lives in many ways.

In a statement issued after the conclusion of the talks on the TPPA, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the Government firmly believed that the agreement would help Malaysia further promote its trade and investment agenda and mitigate the challenges of the global economic environment.

At the same time, many Malay­sian and foreign organisations, and individuals are wary of the impact of the TPPA. They fear that some of the countries stand to lose more than the potential gain from the partnership.

Mustapa has consistently given the assurance that the decision whether Malaysia will sign the TPPA is a collective one, and will be made after “full and extensive discussions within the country”.

In his statement on Monday, he said, “Once the complete and official text of the agreement is prepared, it will be in the public domain and presented to Parliament for debate. We will also hold full consultations with interested parties and the public.”

The TPPA is certainly a far more complex matter than the EPF proposal on the withdrawal age, but we cannot let that deter us from exercising our right to voice our concerns, as long as they are well-founded and constructive.

It is our obligation to understand the agreement well and to register our opinions. There is no better role than being masters of our fate.