Some 30 university students and activists led a protest outside USM this morning against the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which would allow large multinational corporations greater powers in the national economy. It is believed to be the first protest against the TPP by university students in the country.
The protest was held as International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamad visited USM in Penang this morning to brief students, village and community leaders, business representatives and politcal party members on the trade deal.
During the briefing with students, one of them asked the minister how he could be sure the TPP would benefit the people. After all, she said, the government had also said the GST would be good, but instead it had burdened the people with higher prices.
To this, Mustapa claimed that the GST is actually good; it was just the implementation that was weak in some areas and this had allowed some traders to profiteer.
The student also asked Mustapa if the extension of the period for patent rights under the TPP would lead to higher prices. Mustapa said there would be no extension and any price increases would be due to a weaker ringgit.
Such replies have not convinced the activists.
Outside, reporters crowded around the activists staging their protest as several took turns to explain why they were opposing the TPP. Among the major concerns were that the TPP would result in greater corporate control of the economy and result in higher costs of healthcare.
No police or security personnel were visible although the security personnel around the USM gate occasionally popped out to size up the protest.
A couple of familiar faces from Perkasa-type groups were present though. One of them, Mohd Ridzuan, interrupted the protest and asked the activists why they were gathering there when they could have voiced their concerns inside the hall during Mustapa’s briefings.
“We can discuss that later,” one of the activists told them. “Right now, you are disrupting our protest. We are addressing the media now.”
Ridzuan stepped back.
Unit Arif members in orange vests – a new group set up by Parti Amanah, equivalent to Pas’ purple-vested Unit Amal – helped the activists to control security and ensure traffic was not blocked.
Representatives from Penang-based NGOs such as the Consumers Association of Penang, Empower, Pan-Ap, Aliran and Penang Forum were also present, and a couple of them spoke. PSM, PKR and Amanah reps also participated in the protest.
The protest ended peacefully after half an hour.
While it is claimed that Malaysia’s participation in the TPP would result in larger GDP gains, the country’s trade surplus would be much smaller under the TPP.
In 2027, the trade balance is projected to remain in surplus following Malaysia’s participation in the TPPA.
“The size of the trade surplus will be smaller at US$29.7 billion to US$35.1 billion, compared to the baseline scenario of US$41.9 billion where the TPPA does not exist.
Parliament is expected to discuss the TPPA 26-28 January, and the TPPA is then scheduled to be signed in New Zealand on 4 February.
The Malaysia cabinet then has up to two years to ratify the agreement and come up with enabling legislation.
The TPPA will come into force when six of the 12 nations ratify the agreement. These first six nations will then call the shots when dealing with those who have not yet ratified.