Originally, there were only four countries involved; Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile.
Later, the USA joined the fray.
Now, a total of 12 countries are negotiating the deal.
Aside from the five countries above, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam are in on it.
Negotiations have ended and the terms are locked, but no signatures yet.
What does Malaysia stand to gain?
So now that everybody on the street is talking about it, how will Malaysia benefit from signing the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement)?
Free trade agreements between different countries usually mean that products or services that are exported and imported between these countries are exempted from tax or have low tariffs.
That means higher income and profit is obtained, compared to trade between countries that are not party to a free trade agreement.
If Malaysia signs the TPPA, it would mean that our country has the opportunity to trade and do business with a market of more than 800 million people, without restrictions.
According to many economists, if Malaysia remains in the TPPA for the long term, our GDP for exports alone is set to rise to RM152 billion by 2025.
And as a pioneer negotiator in the agreement, Malaysia will probably have more clout (policy-making rights) in the future when the list of countries expands.
So that is it for most of the obvious advantages for the country if we choose to sign and be a part of the TPPA when the time comes.
What about the disadvantages?
The loudest criticism being thrown against the TPPA is that the terms of the agreement are so confidential that nobody knows anything about it. People just want it to be transparent.
And it doesn’t help that governments which do decide to sign on, cannot reveal the terms for at least four years from the date of it being signed.
The excuse for this is that each country involved has her own chips that she brings to the negotiating table. And this serves to protect the negotiation process.
Many also highlight the fact that one component of the TPPA, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), will mean that corporations can take legal action against governments that try to form policies against them.
So doesn’t this mean that Malaysia’s autonomy would be under threat by capitalism? This issue needs to be looked into carefully for the sake of our citizens.
The difference in intellectual property laws of the different countries is also a problem since in Malaysia, the duration for copyright is less compared to the others like the USA.
This has a direct effect on some sectors, especially the health sector. 80 per cent of the drugs we use are un-patented generic versions that cost less.
So what does this all mean? For one, we need to remember that Malaysia has not signed the agreement yet. Yes, negotiations have ended and the terms are set. But no one has signed.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and International Trade Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed have said that any decision taken will be in the best interest of the country.
Right now, the issue will be brought to Parliament for a decision to be made by our lawmakers – whether the country will sign the TPPA or not.
Personally, I don’t feel comfortable with anything that isn’t transparent. The government has repeated again and again that they will not make any decisions detrimental to the country.
But I don’t feel that just putting faith in our elected leaders to make the right decisions by their own terms, and leaving the people out of the loop, is very democratic.
At the moment, the people know almost nothing about the TPPA. And the fact that Parliament will make a decision where the option is just a yes or a no, doesn’t make it any better.
As a Malaysian, I feel I have a right to know every single reason for the decisions made by the government that has been elected to represent me and my fellow citizens.
Listen to The Fat Bidin Podcast that we did talking about the TPPA.
Watch the video where we talk about the TPPA.