Let’s fast track and join the TPP too

United States President Barack Obama has signed laws to “fast track the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)”. It is now Malaysia’s turn to fast track our preparations to join the TPP.

The TPP was supposed to have been concluded at the end of the last two years but was delayed by US legislative processes and approvals.

Now the ball is in the court of 12 Pacific rim countries viz Malaysia, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Indonesia is not among the negotiating countries as her population is large like China’s although much more protective perhaps. China’s market is vastly bigger but the government is nevertheless prepared to consider joining the TPP as it is more open to international competition.

What about us in Malaysia?

YB Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, our realistic Minister of International Trade and Industry says, “We are looking for the way forward, which includes engagement with ministries and industries, (and Consumers) to make sure, our concerns are adequately addressed”.

That is only right and proper. But we have to develop a strong national consensus soon. Many of our concerns are not unique to us. We can therefore consolidate our collaboration with smaller like-minded countries, to negotiate for the best deal possible against the flexing muscles of giants like the US.
However, we may have serious problems in “adequately addressing” our special concerns at home. These are related to our state enterprises (government-linked companies or GLC’s), Bumiputera interests, government tenders and contracts and other protected individuals, interests and procedures.

Here we have to be careful not to insist too much on unduly narrow, short term preferences that benefit mainly powerful and parochial businessmen. They cannot and should not be protected forever at the expense of the rakyat and our overall national progress.

In any negotiation, no party can play a zero sum game. It cannot be the case, where when I spin, whether it’s heads or tales, I win and you lose all the time. There has to be give and take. In any case there are some TPP safeguards for affirmative action. However these cannot again be limitless and last forever.
Bumiputera businesses and GLCs will surely understand that their protective barriers have to be phased out sooner rather than later as they face more globalisation in the real world.

However if we succumb to internal resistance to change, transform and go forward, there is a high price to pay. This will be in the form of diminished international trade and investment, slow economic growth and poor employment prospects, especially for thousands of unemployed graduates from local universities. Then what will happen, with all the resultant frustration, resentment and possible social reaction?

MITI and other government negotiators are still of high calibre, despite our weak education system. They will try their best, to optimise Malaysia’s advantages from the TPP negotiations.

However, the minister and his able team can only be as strong as their political and public backing and support.

We hope that the government’s wide public consultations with all stakeholders i.e. politicians; businesses leaders, big and small; and general consumers, will bear fruit. We hope they will adopt reasonable positions and strategies together with other TPP countries. Then Malaysia will be able to join the TPP and get into the mainstream of international trade and investment – and flourish.

However if we choose to be slow to join, or reluctant to decide on time, then come around December this year, we will be marginalised from the TPP. We could then well remain a prisoner in the present middle income trap.

We cannot afford to be the proverbial frog in the well. If so, worse still, we could decline and even sink, especially, if we don’t feel the rising temperatures of competition and meritocracy enclosing on us.

So I hope we will join the TPP for the sake of our longer term national progress and sustainability.

Good luck to our able minister and tough negotiators.

Article published in The Star and The Malaysian Insider.

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