KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 — Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed today minimised concerns that Malaysia could be excluded from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) over its dismal people-trafficking record.
The international trade and industry minister said the planned regional trade pact with the US, which also involves nine other Pacific nations, was still being discussed, amid reports that negotiations over the controversial agreement are at the final stage after the US Senate approved Friday a bill to “fast track” trade agreements negotiated by the White House.
“TPP is still being discussed and nothing has been finalised yet,” Mustapa told Malay Mail Online.
“In the event discussions are concluded, the outcome of these discussions will go to Cabinet and Parliament for approval. Regarding our Tier 3 position on human trafficking, this could be resolved if a Tier 3 country is seen to be taking concrete steps to implement recommendations in the Trafficking in Persons report,” he added.
Mustapa was referring to the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report that downgraded Malaysia last year to Tier 3, its worst ranking on human trafficking abuses globally.
Tier 3 countries, which include North Korea and Thailand, are defined as nations that do not meet anti-trafficking standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
US news website Huffington Post reported Friday that while the White House is on the verge of securing the fast-track approval it needs to push ahead with the long-delayed free-trade deal, a US senator has succeeded in inserting a provision that would bar his country from entering agreements with countries officially viewed as engaging in slavery, which includes Malaysia.
Fast-track authority means that the US congress can either approve or reject trade deals, but cannot amend them.
The fast-track bill’s anti-slavery provision authored by US Senator Robert Menendez — reportedly unhappy with attempts by the Obama administration to override his efforts to address human trafficking — would effectively prevent the early conclusion of the TPPA.
Huffington Post reported that the US House of Representatives would either need to amend the bill and send it back to the Senate or pass it and subsequently negotiate with the Senate, both of which would cause delays.
The news website also reported that the battle over the fast-track bill will now move to the US House of Representatives that is expected to see great resistance from Obama’s Democrat party.
Critics in Malaysia claim that the TPPA will increase the price of medicine here and affect local small-scale businesses.