IDEAS organized a Special Discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement which featured Ambassador Michael Froman (The United States Trade Representative), Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid (IDEAS Advisory Council Member) and Nurhisham Hussein (Head of the Economics and Capital Markets department at the Employees Provident Fund) on 7 May 2015. The session was moderated by IDEAS’ CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

About 100 participants representing the business community, NGO’s, research institutions, universities and media attended the discussion and participated in the Q&A session which followed thereafter.

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The discussion touched on number of important issues regarding the TPP, in particular the intellectual property rights provisions and its impact on the price of medicine, the impact that the TPP would have on state owned enterprises (SOE’s) and Malaysia’s affirmative action policies, the importance of conducting multiple, detailed cost-benefit analysis for Malaysia, the need to address potential harmful effects, especially state settlements and disputes, as well as the secrecy that shrouds much of the TPP negotiations.

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Ambassador Froman made the case that the TPP would strengthen economic integration and would provide a bridge that would link signatories to trade opportunities from both sides of the pacific. Reductions in barriers to trade and greater access to wider markets would foster economic growth and lead to higher incomes for most people, especially the common man. He also quoted a study by the Petterson Institute, whose findings suggested that Malaysia and Vietnam, in percentage terms at least, would be the biggest beneficiaries of the TPP. Regarding the issue of medicines, Froman noted that 85% of medicine prescriptions in the US are fulfilled by generic medicine, but that intellectual property rights are crucial nonetheless, to encourage innovation in healthcare.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid made several points to allay the fears and concerns of TPP skeptics. Among other things, he noted the fact that the TPP wouldn’t necessarily bind Malaysia to one superpower, the US, because Malaysia could still technically sign the RCEP agreement with China. Hence, he argued that Malaysia needs to identify its own interest and devise a feasible strategy to secure it. On the issue of small and medium enterprises (SME’s), he argued that the establishment of an ASEAN SME Growth Bank would provide valuable financial access and mentoring to smaller players, and that the TPP would provide great opportunities for local SME’s to blossom.

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Nurhisham Hussein on the other hand, spoke about the need for Malaysia to conduct more than one cost benefit analysis due to the fact that different methodologies (and agendas of the parties conducting it) would produce different results. Speaking on Malaysia’s bumiputera policy, he noted that it had to be revamped, yet maintained, in order to address economic imbalances and inequality between the major races. He also said that Malaysian SOE’s would benefit as a result of access to foreign markets, but that SOE’s are concerned about the TPP, as it would potentially require them to have transparency standards that are higher than the local private sectors, which might in turn raise costs and thus jeopardize their competitive edge.

An animated question and answer session followed, which fielded questions on myriad issues, from legislation regarding the manufacture of tobacco products, the current status of the Trade Promotion Authority Bill (to fast track negotiations), transparency in the TPP negotiation process, SOE’s and propriety information as well as questions on how the TPP would spur poverty elimination and economic development of the signatories.

After the Q&A, Wan Saiful Wan Jan summarized succinctly the main points of the discussion. He also reminded the audience that the main reason IDEAS organized this event, was to provide a platform for concerned citizens and civil society to be informed, and to voice their opinions and grievances about this important topic in a civilized fashion. The session ended at 12 pm, but not before the panelist gave several media interviews to both local and foreign press that were present.

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Report by Yohannan Nair

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Links to Media Coverage

Malaysia needs to strike a balance in trade pacts

TPPA sedia akses pasaran

TPPA talks near the end ‘but still challenges remain’

Tiada tarikh akhir muktamad TPPA

TPP would not affected aboriginal policy (Nanyang Siang Pau)

Coverage in China Press

Please visit this Youtube playlist to view series newsclip on the events.

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