Malaysian police use “drug charges” to stop protest of trade deal

This week, the latest round of secretive trade talks for the massive Transpacific Partnership Trade agreement took place at an exclusive resort in Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu, drawing protesters and prompting more than a dozen arrests.

Malaysians protest the latest trade talks on the TPPA, (Photo: ChannelAsia.)
Malaysians protest the latest trade talks on the TPPA, (Photo: ChannelAsia.)

The trade deal, which the US is pushing and Japan just announced it is joining, would cover 12 nations and have vast implications for millions of people, especially those in poorer Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Often as a journalist, it’s a tough sell to get people interested in faraway negotiations on a trade pact that has lacked transparency and offers few, concrete details.

However, thanks to investigative work by groups like Citizens Trade Campaign and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, enough internal documents have been leaked to paint a picture that should draw attention. (One chapter, made public in 2012, reveals attempts to give special rights to corporations under the deal, allowing them to undermine national and local protections on public health and food safety.) The documents also show that the pact, known as the TPP, could affect:

–labor rights and workplace protections
–land holdings and agricultural rules
–access to medicine for residents in poor countries
–Internet freedom and online expression

According to the US trade office, the Obama Administration is hoping to put the deal in place by the end of this year. But even in the US, there is opposition. In June, House Democrats signed onto a letter calling for increased transparency in the talks and protection of American jobs. Criticism is also coming from abroad.

This week I spoke to Nizam Mahshar, a Malaysian activist with the Malay Economic Action Council, who was at the police station in Sabah after 14 protesters were detained on “drug charges” on July 20. Mahshar told me that the arrests were enough to derail the protests that day, but that actions to educate local businesses and residents continue. Their concerns are shared by some prominent critics of the deal, including former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has called for more transparency in the talks.

Mashar told me that none of the civil society groups or local representatives from trade unions or industries have been consulted.

“The whole negotiation right now is being driven by the United States and for us, the developing countries, [we] are victims of being bullied by these big countries.”

Check out the full interview with Mashar on Free Speech Radio News that aired July 24, 2013 here.

The next round (the 19th) of TPP negotiations will be held in Brunei from August 22-30. In the meantime, you can access more documents about the trade deal here. Also, check out this music video on the TPP, where more than just the melody is familiar:

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