MTUC demands Putrajaya snub Trans-Pacific trade pact

MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon (right) said that the call was not related to any position the previous Pakatan Harapan administration had taken on the free trade agreement, and the objection was because the deal poses significant threat to workers right in the country. — Picture by Choo Choy May
MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon (right) said that the call was not related to any position the previous Pakatan Harapan administration had taken on the free trade agreement, and the objection was because the deal poses significant threat to workers right in the country. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 ― The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has strongly urged Putrajaya not to endorse the ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

In a press statement today, its secretary-general J Solomon said that the call was not related to any position the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration had taken on the free trade agreement, and the objection was because the deal poses significant threat to workers right in the country.

He said that despite International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s explanation that PH had agreed to endorse CPTPP’s ratification on September 5, 2018, Opposition leaders had claimed that after subsequent deliberations the Cabinet had second thoughts on the matter.

“MTUC does not wish to get caught in any political spat between the previous and present government but urge the government not to endorse joining the CPTPP as it poses significant threats to worker rights and puts a large number of jobs at risk under the guise of free trade.

“MTUC feels that the government must not ignore the fact that CPTPP lacks effective protection for worker rights and may well also result in the removal of other social, environmental and safety protection in place now.

“We find the CPTPP provides member countries with a lot of latitude to manoeuvre other nations in the group into removing important legislation on workers welfare and rights under the pretext of reducing tariff barriers and championing free trade,” said Solomon.

He added that Malaysia’s umbrella group for workers unions as well as other unions worldwide have noted that the CPTPP only benefits major corporations and does not contain mechanisms to monitor member countries adhere to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) standards and conventions.

Furthermore, there are no provisions ensuring ILO violations are penalised while the deal’s labour chapter has narrowed down the number of claims that can be taken against signatories abusing workers’ rights will only take affect if it has impacted trade.

He also pointed out that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in CPTPP still allows foreign investors to sue the government for regulations or actions that threatens their ability to make profit ― similar to its first incarnation the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

“Similar mechanisms were used in the past to challenge minimum wage laws as well as other rules that affect workers, such as those on health and safety. The ISDS feature in CPTPP clearly poses a serious threat to the livelihood and welfare of workers in Malaysia.

“Corporations could deem unfair any change of policy that improves workers’ rights and conditions, if they see it as a violation of their “legitimate expectations”, ie. their expected profits.

“The expansive reach of the ISDS system, allows multinational corporations to sue governments in secretive tribunals outside of the national legal system for unlimited taxpayer money,” Solomon warned.

He also predicted that the free trade agreement will create job losses in some sectors due to increased imports from member countries.

Solomon also noted that Azmin has not disputed the Economic Planning Unit findings that through CPTPP, Malaysia’s export will spike by RM10 billion against an increase of RM516 million in exports ― leaving Malaysia with a trade deficit of RM9.6 billion a year.

He argued that the international trade minister ha not presented a convincing case that would suggest it is in the interests of our workers, our economy and our society to join CPTPP.

MTUC also voiced its worry that the deal would open up public procurement markets while restricting the government’s ability to support local businesses that recognise trade unions or pay living wages.

“It is patently clear that the CPTPP is not really about fair, free trade between the member countries. In fact, only a handful of the chapters deal directly on trade. Many of the chapters in the agreement are framed to benefit major corporations rather than the people.

“If the Perikatan government chooses to endorse the ratification of the CPTPP, the government should ensure that any laws or amendments it introduces does not have any negative consequences for foreign investors, even though it benefits the workers and the people.

“This would pose serious questions about the government’s ability to act freely in the interest of the rakyat,” said Solomon pointing out that political spats between the current and previous administration should not negate the facts on the heavy price facing Malaysians under CPTPP.

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