BY GURDIAL SINGH NIJAR
JANUARY 21 — The attack on those who allegedly oppose the TPPA seems to be reaching a crescendo as the date for the parliamentary presentation of the agreement draws near: the latest is by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. ‘Prioritise consumers in TPPA deal’, The Star online, 19 January 2016. He has labelled critics as ‘ideological activists’. In contrast he says he is focused on facts and only the truth.
He declares himself as ‘pro-liberalisation’ — preferring unilateral to multilateral liberalisation. Now, is not that an ideological position? And ideologues, he says, simply cannot sift the truth.
He accuses the Bantah-TPPA NGO as opposing the agreement two years before even seeing the ‘real TPPA text’. It is well known that there were leaks of the negotiating text — through Wikipedia and other Snowden-type channels.
Admittedly people were never sure of the text being discussed. Because the 12 nations involved carried out the negotiations in secrecy (except for a large representation of corporate interests) — on the entirely false premise (justified primarily by the US) that otherwise an agreement would not be reached. A rather odd, if not false premise, given that Malaysia has concluded several agreements with the rest of the world comprising 196 nations in an open and transparent manner.
Now this is what any paragon of the truth should lament — the lack of transparency which made an assessment of the agreement rather difficult.
Saiful has selectively picked some side (not substantive) comments from an MP and a former UN Assistant Secretary-General to support his position.
With respect he misses the point. Those of us — and I include myself — are raising issues of concern as a vital feedback in respect of an agreement which most of us are struggling to understand. For it is set out in 6,300 pages with 30 chapters on a complex array of inter-linked topics such as goods, investment and ISDS, trade remedies, barriers to trade, services, government procurement, competition, state owned enterprises, intellectual property, labour, environment, small and medium sized industries and so on. The provisions couched in legal language are complex and not easy to comprehend.
So of course there could be errors in understanding and voicing concerns. But surely these should be discussed in true open and democratic tradition. After all, the agreement has the potential to affect future generations in multifarious ways. Let’s not multiply the cesspool of those who willy-nilly denigrate opponents — spewing adjectival abuses: ‘excitable’ ‘emotional’ ‘non-objective’ and the like.
As for not looking at the truth, although I hold no brief for the Bantah NGO, I have been impressed by the several analytical papers commissioned on critical topics: by academicians, professionals and commentators from a range of fields. Perhaps these should be considered as part of the ‘focus on truth’ narrative before summarily dismissing others’ work as unworthy.
Saiful counts himself as ‘us common people’ for whom the TPPA is straightforward — it will enable cheaper products of higher quality, he says. Will it? Even the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) who has been championing consumer rights for decades doubts this beneficial effect and opposes the TPPA!!
Surely what is needed is for us not to make hasty accusatory conclusions. We need time and careful study and explanation to better understand the long term implications of this agreement. Our grandchildren may have to pay the price if we go wrong.
It is to be hoped that such organisations as Wan Saiful’s Institute for Democracy insist instead on such an open and unhurried discourse — a hallmark of a functioning democracy. And oppose any attempts to rush through an agreement with vast potential — perhaps for good, perhaps not.
* Gurdial Singh Nijar is a professor from the Law Faculty of Universiti Malaya.