Sunday March 26, 2006
Malaysian activists launch campaign against free trade deal with US
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysian activists over the weekend launched a campaign against a planned bilateral free trade deal with the US, saying it could undermine job and food security and the nation’s economy.
Worried by free trade agreements (FTAs) the United States has completed or is negotiating with nations such as neighbouring Thailand, activists demanded Malaysia justify the benefits of any deal.
"There has to be transparency and accountability from the government as to what they are committing and negotiating," said Meena Rahman from Friends of the Earth Malaysia.
"(Malaysia’s) minister of trade constantly says this is going to benefit (us). We are not convinced, because we have seen how other US FTAs have caused massive ramifications," she told AFP at a forum to discuss the US-Malaysia FTA.
Malaysia and the United States earlier this month announced negotiations for a FTA, with formal talks expected to start in June and finish by year’s end, and the deal to be approved by the US Congress by July 2007.
The US has outlined the positives for Malaysia’s economy, arguing it will increase investment, create more jobs and a more competitive business environment as American business are lured to Malaysia.
But the activists said they fear Malaysia would be pressured into a series of unfair trading concessions, echoing the concerns of Thai campaigners.
FTA negotiations between Thailand and the US have been fraught by disputes over drug patents and intellectual property rights, and fears the deal will hurt farmers.
"It’s very clear ... that from what the US wants from these agreements, that it will really be opening up not just the market, but opening up the economies of developing countries to big corporations from the US," said Chee Yoke Ling, legal advisor to development lobby group, the Third World Network.
Chee said concerns included the enforcement of US intellectual property rights, which could mean the end of cheaper generic drugs to treat diseases.
Activists also fear increased US control over Malaysia’s investment policies, infrastructure development and the provision of services including health care.
"Each of these sectors have been targeted for opening up, and we feel this would have a lot of implications for Malaysia’s ability to really manage our own economy," said Chee.
Campaigners at the forum launched a petition against the FTA and an information website, and vowed to mobilise Malaysians.
The US is Malaysia’s largest trading partner and its largest foreign investor, while Malaysia is the United States’ tenth largest trading partner.
Two-way trade in 2005 amounted to 44 billion dollars.