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TPPA: NGOs want medical and tobacco business excluded in free trade talks

The Star, Malaysia

TPPA: NGOs want medical and tobacco business excluded in free trade talks

By Muguntan Vanar

20 July 2013

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia should exclude medical and tobacco businesses in the ongoing free trade talks under the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Several Malaysian non-governmental organisations are pushing for the exclusion medical and tobacco businesses from the trade deal because, they say, inclusion will not benefit the people with cheaper medicines and other medical services.

The NGOs - Malaysian Aids Council, Breast Cancer Welfare Association (BCWF), Malaysian, PT Foundation, Council of Tobacco Control (MTTC) South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) - made the call at the Stakeholders Forum here aimed at allowing interest groups to bring give their views to the negotiators (of the TPPA).

At a press conference later, Malaysian Aids Council policy manager Fifa Rahman said that any trade deal involving medical-related issues should be an exception to the deal.

Such trade deals, she said do not benefit the people as the cost of medicines and other related issues, such as medical machines, are likely to increase as seen in other similar trade deals.

Similarly, SEATCA senior policy adviser Mary Assunta said that tobacco companies should not benefit from such trade deals as respective countries were already taking their steps to reduce tobacco use.

She said there are cases where countries are being challenged in court for enforcing laws to discourage smoking, which the tobacco companies are claiming are in breach of free trade agreements, she explained.

Some 30 interest groups from various countries voiced their concerns about the TPPA on a wide range of issues, including environmental, copyrights and banking among others.

The trans-Pacific free trade deal is an ongoing multilateral negotiation involving Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Japan is scheduled to join the negotiations later next week.

Malaysian MPs from both sides of the political divide also attended the stakeholders meeting to hear the various issues raised and to get a better understanding of the concerns of the people.

Leading the MPs, Barisan Nasional’s Jasin MP Datuk Wira Ahmad Hamzah said that they were studying and gathering information from the stakeholders and would ensure that the country’s interests are protected.

``Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,’’ he said assuring that any deal will protect the sovereignty of the country and the people’s interests safeguarded.

PKR’s Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, who was part of the MPs caucus, said that any agreement on TPPA should be ratified by Parliament.

Meanwhile, Kota Kinabalu police arrested 14 local interest groups who staged a protest outside Sutera Harbour Resort, the venue of the TPPA meeting.