The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) cautions Malaysia not to be deceived by US introduction of the Fast Track Bill. Malaysia is reminded not to make further concessions in the TPP without fast-track authority actually being granted by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
The last technical round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement negotiations will be held next week in the USA. Malaysia is negotiating the TPP with 11 other countries including the USA and it is scheduled to be concluded at negotiations by Ministers of Trade next month.
The USA does not have fast-track authority at the moment, which means that one committee chair or a few senators in the U.S. Congress can reopen the TPP text after it is concluded in order to demand more concessions from Malaysia (for example stronger intellectual property protection that would keep medicines and textbooks more expensive for longer or removal of Malaysia’s proposed safeguard for tobacco control measures) as a condition of passing the TPP.
As the TPP negotiations reached their final stages, concessions have to be made on very sensitive issues. Before making these concessions, some TPP countries such as Canada and Chile have wisely insisted on the USA having fast-track authority so that they can be more confident that they will not be asked to make further concessions, beyond their red lines in order to pass the U.S. Congress.
Malaysia does not appear to be insisting on the U.S. having fast-track authority before it makes its final concessions in the TPP negotiations next month. This means that (unlike other TPP countries) Malaysia is naively willing to give even more concessions to each individual U.S. congressional committee chair and US senators, in a one-sided negotiation where the U.S. gives nothing, in order for the TPP to pass the U.S. Congress.
Yesterday, a fast-track bill was proposed in the U.S. Congress, however it has no chance of passing both the House and the Senate (as it needs to become law) before the TPP negotiations are expected to be concluded next month. This is because:
- only 2-5% of the bills that are introduced to the U.S. Congress become laws
- To pass the U.S. House of Representatives, 218 votes are needed.
o The bill proposed yesterday only makes insignificant changes to the fast track bill that was ‘dead on arrival’ in the House when it was introduced in 2014. At the time, only eight out of 201 House Democrats supported the bill (it was even opposed by the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi) and House Republican leadership could not count more than 100 members as “yes” votes.
o This year, ‘The Wall Street Journal reported in March that between 50 and 60 Republicans could buck Boehner and Obama on fast-track. That would require Democrats to deliver about 32 votes.’ But only about 15 House Democrats currently support fast-track which means that there are not enough votes for the fast-track authority to pass.
o There is so much opposition to this fast-track bill that they could not find a single Democrat willing to sponsor it in the House.
o Key democrats are opposing the fast-track bill including:
§ Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin who issued a six page list of the problems with the proposed fast-track bill
§ a top Democratic member of the House Representative Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee
§ Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and his replacement Senator Chuck Schumer
§ The influential Senator Elizabeth Warren
- ‘Many U.S. presidents have had difficulty obtaining a Fast Track grant from Congress. Congress denied President Bill Clinton Fast Track authority for six of his eight years in office despite Clinton’s official requests in 1995, 1997 and 1998. The next president, Republican George W. Bush, spent two years and enormous political capital to obtain Fast Track in 2002 even though he enjoyed a Republican majority in Congress. However Bush’s attempts to obtain additional Fast Track authority were rebuffed by Congress in 2007 and 2008.
Given the above, Malaysia must not be hoodwinked by the mere proposal of a fast-track bill. Malaysia must not make further concessions in the TPP without fast-track authority actually being granted by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Most importantly Malaysia should not sign the TPPA since the cost-benefit analysis by the United Nations economist shows that Malaysia will actually lose in the TPP chapters where it is supposed to gain and the TPP costs are heavy and ongoing for all sectors of Malaysian society.
S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS
Consumers’ Association of Penang & Sahabat Alam Malaysia