President Obama speaks to Young Southeast Asian Leaders at Universiti Malaya during his visit to Malaysia. Photo: Umapagan Ampikaipakan.
President Obama speaks to Young Southeast Asian Leaders at Universiti Malaya during his visit to Malaysia in 2014. Photo: Umapagan Ampikaipakan.

What is TPPA?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (also known as TPP or TPPA) is a free trade agreement. It was announced on Monday 5 October 2015 that the agreement had been reached, marking the “largest trade-liberalising pact in a generation”.

TPPA seeks to promote trade and encourage growth within the economies of participating countries with United States being the lead negotiator, which is why President Obama toured Southeast Asia in 2014.

It is a significantly expanded version of the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP or P4) which originally included only Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The agreement is similar in vein to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), another trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and the United States.

Which countries are currently involved?

12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam. China has not been invited to join TPPA talks and hopes to negotiate a rival free trade deal involving 16 Asia-Pacific countries.

What will the TPPA affect?

A few areas that would be impacted include the legal system, medical resources, tobacco control laws, intellectual property (IP) rights for digital media and literary copyright. During his visit to Malaysia, President Obama stated that the TPPA will help to create jobs and foster the countries’ development.

Why is there a strong sentiment against TPPA?

Unlike TTIP which has all details of the negotiations fully disclosed to the public, there is much secrecy shrouding TPPA and proceedings are carried out without any public input as to how the deal might affect them. The public would not know what was signed under TPPA and the extend of it until four years after the deal has been sealed. The only public information available right now is a leaked draft on the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter from WikiLeaks.

Why are some Malaysians protesting TPPA?

A group of Malaysians and NGOs have been protesting the TPPA since last year. As well as the secrecy element, they are concerned that the TPPA will affect internet freedoms and raise the price of medicines, benefiting large corporations. There have been flash mobs and demonstrations at key venues with several websites and Facebook pages protesting TPPA. A few protestors even stood up during the President’s Town Hall meeting with Young Southeast Asian Leaders at Universiti Malaya on Sunday.

Why did it take so long for the deal to be negotiated?

There have been talks about the deal since 2008. Trade talks had been inconclusive between Japan and the US as both have been treading carefully in negotiating the agriculture and automobile sectors. In the final days of the negotiations, there had also been disagreements over how long pharmaceutical companies could protect data, which would impact the cost of drugs and who gets to supply them.

What happens next?

The TPPA still needs to go through the US congress and the government of each member country to be ratified. Each country will debate how the agreement should be implemented. In 2014, Prime Minister Najib has said that was committed to getting the acceptance of Malaysian people on TPPA. International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed reinforced this after the announcement, saying that the final text would be in the public domain before being signed by the Malaysian government.

Lyn Ong

First published 29 April 2014, updated 6 October 2015. Clarification: an earlier version of this article stated “It was announced on Monday 5 October 2015 that the agreement had been signed”; this has been amended to “been reached” to distinguish between the negotiation and the ratification of the deal.

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