By Yin Shao Loong
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) was signed today in New Zealand by Malaysia and 11 other nations. Malaysians, including the Malaysian government, remain largely unaware of the full implications of the TPP.

While the TPPA has been signed, this is only a tentative first step. Signing does not bring about any definitive commitment to implement the agreement. The Trudeau government of Canada, for example, has indicated that signing the TPPA does not oblige it to commit to implementation, as even Canada needs more time to assess the social and economic implications.

Full implementation of the TPPA requires around 24 amendments to some 16 Malaysian laws. These amendments have yet to be drafted or their impacts weighed. We have an estimated two years to go beyond the hype of the TPPA and to figure out what it really means.

There remains a need for Malaysia to properly assess the likely social and economic impacts of the TPPA. Existing cost-benefit analyses (CBAs) did not have access to the final text and, from the studies presently available, there is a clear lack of consensus on the economic impacts. The CBAs have also failed to explore the geopolitical consequences of the TPPA, particularly scenarios resulting from regional polarisation between the US and China.

The antagonistic role of the TPPA is clear for the US. President Obama greeted today’s signing of the TPPA by stating, “TPP allows America – and not countries like China – to write the rules of the road in the 21st century.”

We need to liberate our economic imagination from the restrictive trade and investment template pushed by the US government and its multinational corporations. We should be forging such agreements collectively, ensuring that Malaysia’s national interests are reflected, and we should be using fora such as the United Nations where small nations such as ours carry more weight.

Some Malaysians, ironically including people in government, have given up hope of genuine economic reform taking place under the present or future leadership. This has translated into support for US-led intervention via the TPPA that is ultimately founded on a lack of hope. The logic being that since our authoritarian government has made itself so unassailable by democratic means, anything is better than the status quo.

We cannot blame the US or the TPPA for this loss of faith. It is entirely Malaysian in origin. But those of us who doubt the ability of Malaysians to author their destiny fail to see how much Malaysia has changed in the last decade and how tenuous the current government’s hold on power is.

Gerrymandering and electoral malapportionment allow big wins for parties unable to capture the popular vote. However, when they do lose, they lose big. Billions of dollars and the backing of foreign powers cannot insulate leaders forever from the majority of voters.

In the meantime, we should not surrender our national sovereignty so cheaply, for it is dear to win it back. We should reject the TPPA and support moves for economic agreements that help uplift small nations rather than make them the playthings of great powers.

The TPPA is signed, but the issue is far from over. The road to rejection begins today.

Yin Shao Loong is the executive Director of Institut Rakyat.
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