Monday, May 21, 2012

From Nurul Izzah Anwar, Malaysia Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai

21 May 2012

Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA): Malaysia’s Democracy Sacrificed for Free Trade?

Tomorrow, 22 May 2012, the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA) will be signed after 7 years of closed door intermittent negotiations.

In those 7 years, the vast majority of Malaysian citizens have not been included as stakeholders - especially in Parliament - on the terms of this 21-chapter agreement.

This unfortunate exclusion from discussions, debates or any other form of participation let alone the entire process of obtaining a Parliamentary ratification denies the public their right to oversight and scrutiny of international treaties and agreements, be they bilateral or multilateral, which could affect national interests and sovereignty. Although the Government is allowed to enter into international agreements and treaties without having to obtain Parliament’s approval, the signing of this bilateral MAFTA is evidence of the Barisan Nasional Government’s penchant for unilateral actions without seeking public opinion, or being attentive to their concerns and sentiments.

While we in KEADILAN support any FTAs if all stakeholders are involved in the process, alongside with Parliamentary review and ratification, all FTAs nevertheless must be premised on “fair trade” principles without compromising the socio-economic sphere, environment, cultural domain, labour rights, public safety and national security.

KEADILAN is particularly concerned by the increasingly growing trend of transfer of potentially environmentally hazardous industries to Malaysia from countries with more stringent environmental standards.

MAFTA, shrouded in secrecy and dogged by a lack of transparency and full disclosure, will certainly bring to the fore the Lynas controversy. The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng, Pahang, scheduled to commence operations in the 2nd quarter of 2012, will import raw rare earth materials from Western Australia to be processed in this refining facility. KEADILAN demands a conclusive answer to the question of whether Australia, under MAFTA, will accept the export of waste and by-products as a result of processed rare earth materials from LAMP which can be designated as a “trade product”.

KEADILAN also demands to know whether the Australian Government, to comply with the anti-corruption rules under MAFTA, will retroactively require Lynas to disclose if there were bribes, kickbacks or any other forms of corruption in obtaining the Malaysian Government’s approval to set up LAMP in Malaysia.

In the same vein, KEADILAN asks if Australia would demand Malaysia to:     
      - guarantee a free press to ensure timely and accurate information to facilitate free trade;
      - guarantee free and fair elections to ensure that the Australian Government deals with a legitimate Malaysian Government in enforcing all the terms and conditions of MAFTA;
      - protect labour rights such as the right to form trade unions, which is almost non-existent at present in Malaysia, as one of the pre-conditions for Australia to accept goods and services from Malaysia.

KEADILAN insists on both Governments to urgently address the deep-rooted negative perception with the recent controversies vis-a-vis the LAMP project as well as the failed ‘Malaysia Solution’ asylum seeker immigration initiative as cases in point.

Finally, KEADILAN strongly believes in and demands that the legislative role and democratic rights of the Malaysian Parliament to review and ratify all treaties and subsequent legislative amendments needed to comply with such treaties be restored with immediate effect. History has shown in many occasions how the executive branch has failed miserably to protect our national interest and sovereignty for instance the territorial dispute cases of Pulau Batu Putih (with Singapore) and Block L and M (with Brunei), the Water Agreement (with Singapore) and the Singapore Tanjong Pagar KTM land deal (with Singapore).

KEADILAN deeply regrets that Australia has clearly missed a golden opportunity to make these Parliamentary and democratic reforms as one of moral prerequisites before even going to the negotiation table with Malaysia on MAFTA. Wouldn’t that have been a truly fair trade deal for the citizens of both countries - Democracy for Free Trade?

Malaysia Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai
and Vice-President Parti KEADILAN Rakyat (People’s Justice Party)

A-1-09, Merchant Square
No. 1, Jalan Tropicana Selatan 1
47410 Petaling Jaya