As the deadline for Malaysia to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) approaches, International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed seemed evasive in answering some pertinent concerns raised.

This happened during the 
Sinar Harian-organised forum in Shah Alam this afternoon, as he shied away from answering how the agreement with 11 countries including Malaysia would affect small and medium industries or how it can alleviate the fears brought by interested parties.

This is the first time that a full-fledged minister has attended the forum organised by the daily.

Unlike previous forums, no question-and-answer session was allowed. However, a short press conference was held and he told the audience he had to be in Kuala Lumpur by 5pm. 
NONEMustapa’s fellow speaker at the forum was Malay Economic Action Council chief executive officer Mohd Nizam Mahshar, who seemed better prepared on the issue.

The minister was also on hand to receive a protest memo from the Coalition to Act Against the TPPA during the press conference, and he then left without commenting on the matter.

During the press conference, the minister, was asked by Mohd Nizam what if Barack Obama came to Malaysia in October, would the country bow to such pressure and sign the agreement.
However, Mustapa did not answer.
Would delay deal if interest violated
Mustapa told the audience that the country depended heavily on trade, but it would not hesitate in delaying to sign the TPPA set at the end of this year. He later reiterated this at the press conference. 

“Malaysia would not sacrifice Malaysia’s and the people’s interests. If there are any big issues which may affect the country’s interest or sovereignty, we will delay in signing it.

“I do not deny there is a deadline, and it is important for the country to have a timetable on when it would be concluded. But, we would not sacrifice the people and country’s interests,” he assured.
NONEDuring the forum which was broacast live via webtv, a spectator also shouted at the moderator, Professor Mohamad Abu Bakar, to have the minister answer pertinent questions and not just to use up time.
Previously, various groups including MTEM and opposition parties had complained about the ministry allegedly not being transparent with the agreement. MTEM was reported to have walked out from a discussion with Mustapa’s ministry.

MTEM and the opposition claim that much of TPPA deal is shrouded with secrecy, including the ministry’s study of a cost and benefit analysis.

When Mohd Nizam pointed out that there were 14 out of 29 points in the agreement which had already been finalised, the minister failed to respond on what were the points agreed to by the countries.

The MTEM CEO also questioned the country’s preparedness in having the TPPA, and said when the signing happens, laws including federal, state and local by-laws may have to be amended.

He also pointed out that as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement being signed, three million of Mexico’s population became unemployed.

Three issues non-negotiable

The minister however, defended that there are three parameters which act as a guideline to the agreement namely the federal constitution, the rights of the federal and state governments and government policy.

He said for example, in terms of affirmative action for the bumiputera, we have said it at the outset that this cannot be touched, as with the federal and state government matters and also on the halal guidelines.

Mustapa said that the TPPA is “a work in progress” and that was the reason why he cannot reveal much. He conceded that there is a need to engage more with the various stakeholders including SMEs, the opposition and others.

When Mohd Nazri pointed out that Peru was forced to open up to international contractors from the United States for projects costing US$7 million or RM25 million, and that it would affect local contractors here, Mustapa only replied he would make sure it would not happen. 

“I would not let any international contractors bid for projects worth that much even if it is for a school in Jeli,” Mustapa, who is Jeli MP, said. 

He pointed out that in any dealings there may be some negative implications.

“For example, if we want to build a highway it would result in easy travel and reaching the destination faster. But at the same time it could result in accidents.

“Even if we want more democracy, like the Bersih demonstrations, this would result in taxi drivers to lose income,” he said.

The minister also gave an assurance that the welfare of government-linked corporation (GLCs) like Petronas, CIMB, Tabung Haji and Maybank would be looked after.

Kota Kinabalu would host the 15th round of the TPPA negotiations next week.

~ Malaysiakini