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Protests greet trans-Pacific free trade talks

Mainichi Daily News, Japan

Protests greet trans-Pacific free trade talks

6 December 2011

KUALA LUMPUR (Kyodo) — Protests greeted the first day of preliminary round talks among officials from nine countries working toward a Pacific free trade pact Monday.

About 100 rights activists and union members gathered outside the hotel in Kuala Lumpur where the five-day U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership inter-sessional meeting is being held.

This is the first TPP meeting among officials from Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam since the leaders’ summit in Hawaii in November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The session is not considered a full negotiating round and involves only a few working groups — market access, investment, services, nonconforming measures, rules of origin and intellectual property rights.

But the protestors, who were holding placards saying "Don’t Trade Away Our Lives" and shouting "Say No to the FTA" and "U.S., Go Home," demanded there should be no more TPP meetings until the Malaysian or the U.S. governments disclose more details about the deal.

"Stop this talk," See Tshiung Han of the Socialist Party of Malaysia told the crowd after handing over a memorandum to U.S. chief negotiator Barbara Weisel.

He was disappointed that in his meeting with Weisel details of the TPP were not forthcoming although he said Weisel agreed to take into account their concerns when drafting the agreement.

"A big issue is when there are so many who will be affected by this agreement and yet the stakeholders are not consulted," he said.

Representing a group championing patients’ rights, Edward Lau expressed concerns the talks on intellectual property protection especially on drugs would result in patients paying more for their medicine.

A. Karuna, representing the National Union of Bank Employees, was worried about job security once the TPP is enforced. She said the government, in the name of drawing more foreign investments, would further loosen regulations pertaining to workers’ rights.

"Malaysia is allowing the U.S. government to regulate our labor force to their favor," she said.

"The problem is people are kept in the dark about what is going on with this free trade agreement," Jeyakumar Devaraj, an opposition legislator leading the rally told Kyodo News. "TPP is primarily for the benefits of the corporate leaders. It is for the corporations to freely bid for government contracts. It is for the pharmaceutical companies to profit at the expense of the people."

Meanwhile, according to a statement from the International Trade and Industry Ministry of Malaysia issued ahead of the meeting, the officials will, among other things, discuss the scheduling of meetings for 2012.

TPP members hope to conclude negotiations by July next year.

The ministry also said no bilateral discussions will be held with any other countries that may wish to join in the negotiations.

Japan is among several other countries, including Canada, Mexico and the Philippines, that are keen to participate in the free trade deal.

For Malaysia, the benefit of joining the TPP is that it offers a single market of nearly half a billion people.

"Implementation of the TPP would extend preferential trade to over 70 percent of Malaysia’s global trade. It will allow Malaysia to do business with the U.S. on preferential trade terms. This is important as the U.S. is Malaysia’s biggest trading partner and source of investment," the ministry said.