The Associated Press | 30 October 2006
Anti-free trade alliance demands end to talks on US-Malaysia pact
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Dozens of placard-waving Malaysians on Monday demanded the suspension of a proposed free trade agreement between Malaysia and the United States as officials from the two countries began a new round of negotiations.
The activists held a noisy protest outside a luxury hotel in Malaysia’s largest city Kuala Lumpur where officials are conducting a third round of talks on the pact that they hope to conclude next year.
Malaysia is the United States’ 10th-largest trading partner, with US$44 billion (€35 billion) in two-way trade in 2005. Officials say that figure will double by 2010 if the pact is signed.
But some Malaysians oppose the deal, fearing it would lead to job losses and the erosion of workers’ rights.
"U.S. Get Out!" chanted about 100 protesters, standing side-by-side Monday outside the hotel. They held placards reading, "Don’t Trade our Lives" and "Don’t Let America Rule Malaysia."
The activists, from a coalition of 35 groups, are also worried that a deal would lift protections on the agriculture sector and the end of cheap, generic drugs now available to those with HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
"In many countries, such FTAs are creating more misery than good. We are concerned about the future of this country," said one of the protesters, Malaysian Trade Union Congress president Syed Shahir.
The protest was far smaller than the 10,000 people promised by the organizers, the Alliance Against the US-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement.
Two more rounds of talks are planned with officials hoping to wrap up negotiations by December and conclude the pact by July 2007, the expiry of U.S. President George W. Bush’s authority to negotiate trade deals that require Congressional approval.
The protesters handed a memorandum to a Malaysian official, demanding the trade ministry suspend all negotiations until a comprehensive cost-benefit study is done in an open and transparent manner.
They dispersed after nearly two hours, and police made no arrests.
"We are still very far behind the U.S. in terms of development, constitutional laws and institutions. We need to strengthen our institutions first. We need to get our house in order to be in a position to bargain," said Xavier Jayakumar, chairman of the alliance.
"We are not against trade but we should work toward multilateral agreements where interests of developing nations will be protected," he added.
U.S. and Malaysian officials declined to comment on the protest, or give details of the weeklong talks.
American negotiators have called for transparency in awarding of Malaysian government contract for which U.S. firms are keen to bid, greater imports of foreign cars and better access to financial markets.
The protection of intellectual property rights for drugs, software and other products are other key items on the negotiating table, officials have said.