By CCTV correspondent Rian Maelzer
The latest round of talks aimed at forging a wide-ranging trade deal among Asia-Pacific countries wrapped up yesterday in Sabah, Malaysia. Negotiators from the 12 countries including the US, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore were upbeat about the chances of concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement by the end of the year.
But politicians in many of those countries still have to convince their citizens the deal is in their best interests.
Protesters march on Malaysia’s parliament to voice their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The main target of their anger was clear -- the United States, whom they see as the chief architects and potential beneficiaries of the proposed deal.
A key concern of opponents here is that a plan to tighten rules on the production of generic drugs would make it hard for Malaysians to afford live-saving medicine. Edward Low has HIV and has been on generic retrovirus drugs for eight years now. He worries about his future.
Edward Low, HIV Patient, said, “It will affect my life, especially my wife and my children. I would like to see my children grow up, further studies, and I would like to see my grandchildren.”
Malaysia’s chief negotiator said his government shares the concerns over proposed changes to regulations for generic medicine. And he’s also aware that, as in many of the TPP countries, Malaysian groups worry about what they see as the high level of secrecy in the talks.
Jayasiri, TPP Chief Negotiator, Malaysia, said, “Of course, there are some quarters who feel there are not enough consultations. And the government now is stepping up efforts to engage with all the stakeholders.”
Another touchy issue that has prompted protests here is the proposal to open up bidding for government contracts. Malay business groups are worried that they will be underbid and outcompeted by bigger, better capitalized foreign companies.
But some analysts feel that opponents to the TPP are over-simplifying issues by contending that the US and other bigger economies stands to gain most, while less developed countries will lose out from the deal.
Steven Wong, Inst. for Strategic & Intl. Studies, Malaysia, said, “In the US they also have concerns, because the US conceives, the public conceives of this part of the world as being highly productive, highly competitive.”
Barbara Weisel, TPP Chief Negotiator, USA, said, “Indeed President Obama does see TPP as a top priority as I think the other TPP leaders do.”
The US and Japan, the biggest economies in the TPP talks, are both important trading partners and investors for Malaysia.
And despite the undoubted tradeoffs all members will have to make, analysts say Malaysia, as one of the world’s most export-dependent and open economies, stands to gain more than it will lose from being part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.