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FTA - The poor fear for their future

Feb 7, 2007

FTA - The poor fear for their future

Bede Hong

A 52-year-old rubber tapper from Semenyih rode on a bus for more than an hour to bring his concerns to the doorstep of the United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur today.

T Ramalingam, who earns less than RM600 a month, wanted the government to reconsider entering into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US because he is afraid that he might lose his job.

“The ones who will lose out the most are poor workers like myself,” lamented the father of four.

“All these years our wages have remained the same. With the FTA, I am worried that we may now lose our jobs as well,” he added.

Ramalingam was among 50 people who protested outside the embassy this morning calling on the government to consider the repercussions of the agreement.

Also expressing concern for the future of those in the low-income bracket, S Koyilvani said many factories are now being privatised and this is ‘frightening’.

“The wages of factory workers has not seen much change since the (1997) economic crisis. With the FTA, the workers jobs might no longer be protected despite their low pay,” added the 38-year-old former employee of a plastic manufacturing plant.

To illustrate the plight of such factory workers, the mother of two revealed that her last drawn salary was a meagre RM500 per month after nine years of working in the company.

The protestors carried placards and banners denouncing the FTA. They also chanted slogans for about 30 minutes under the watchful eyes of some 30 policemen.

A memorandum was also submitted to an embassy official calling for an end to the FTA negotiations between Malaysia and US.

Realise the implications

“Our main concern is to make people realise the implications. Once people realise this we expect a bigger crowd (at the next protest),” said A Sivarajan, coordinator of the People’s Coalition Against Malaysia-US FTA (PCAFTA).

Activists are concerned that the prices of medicine would increase while the quality of public hospitals would decrease as result of the FTA.

The FTA talks being held in Sabah since yesterday are expected to be finalised on Friday before being presented next month to US lawmakers. The FTA has to be submitted to the US Congress before July 1, the deadline for the president’s fast-track authority.

The authority allows the US president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can only approve or reject.

“We call upon the US not to pressure the Malaysian government into signing the FTA. Malaysians have the right to a say in this matter which will affect many aspects of our lives,” said social activist Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj when met during the protest.

“We are concerned that the agreement would affect the health status of average Malaysians via the raising of medicine prices,” he added.

Under the FTA, international patents would be more strictly enforced and restrictions would be imposed on the imports of generic products. This includes pharmaceuticals such as drugs.

Jeyakumar said the FTA would restrict the existing right of the government to bring in generic drugs if it is in national interest.

Another worry is that the FTA would open the door for US hospital chains to enter the Malaysian market, either alone or through joint ventures.

“Such a development would lead to further erosion of public hospitals by aggravating the brain drain,” warned Jeyakumar.

He also noted that the FTA would curtail the government’s ability to regulate the potential toxicity of US products and pollution arising from US factories in Malaysia as a result of expropriation clauses that allow multi-national corporations to sue host governments for any financial loss as a result of interference.

 source: Malaysiakini