KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 8): The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has called on the government not to endorse the ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), irrespective of the position the previous administration had taken on the free trade agreement.   

“While International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali went to great lengths to point out that the Pakatan Rakyat government had agreed to endorse the ratification of the CPTPP on Sept 5, 2018, Pakatan leaders have claimed subsequent deliberations shown the Cabinet then had second thoughts about the decision,” noted the umbrella organisation for local trade unions.

“The MTUC does not wish to get caught in any political spat between the previous and present governments 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,” the MTUC said in a statement issued by its secretary-general J Solomon. 

The government, it said, must not ignore the fact that the CPTPP lacks effective protection of 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,” it said. 

Insisting that the CPTPP only benefits major corporations,  the MTUC said trade unions around the world have noted that the pact does not contain mechanisms to monitor member countries’ adherence to core International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards and conventions. 

It also does not have any provisions to ensure that violations of ILO standards are penalised, added the MTUC.

“Furthermore, the CPTPP labour chapter also narrows the number of claims that can be taken against signatories for abuses of workers' rights as it says violations must be ‘in a manner affecting trade’.  Similar agreements in other parts of the world show that almost always no action is taken against perpetrators of such abuses. 

“The infamous Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the CPTPP allows foreign investors to sue governments for regulations or actions that threaten their ability to make profit. 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,” said the MTUC. 

The ISDS feature in the CPTPP, it said, poses a serious threat to the livelihood and welfare of workers in Malaysia. 

“Corporations could deem unfair any change in policy that improves workers’ rights and conditions if they see it as a violation of their 'legitimate expectations', i.e. their expected profit. 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.

“The CPTPP is likely to result in job losses in some sectors due to increased imports from member countries. The MTUC and unions worldwide are concerned that workers who lose jobs will be forced to take up new employment on precarious terms with low pay in the informal sector,” it added. 

The MTUC noted that Mohamed Azmin had not disputed the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) findings revealed by his predecessor Datuk Darell Leiking that by joining the CPTPP, Malaysian imports would spike by RM10 billion against an increase of RM516 million in exports, resulting in Malaysia’s trade balance dipping by RM9.6 billion per year. 

“Azmin has not presented a convincing case that would suggest it is in the interests of our workers, our economy and our society to join the CPTPP,” it said.

The MTUC is also concerned that the CPTPP would open up public procurement markets, 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 among 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,” it added.

As such, the MTUC said the government should not endorse the ratification of  the CPTPP unless member countries relent on major provisions that would adversely affect the economy and the livelihood as well as well-being of workers in the country.

“Political spats between the previous and present governments should not negate the facts and truth of the heavy price Malaysians will pay if Putrajaya agrees to endorse the ratification of the CPTPP based on a decision taken by the previous Cabinet that was never cast in stone to begin with,” said the umbrella body. - Edge Markets, 8/8/2020