By Sivarajan A.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia-PSM is disgusted by the lackadaisical response from the Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry YB Liew Chin Tong, who deliberately downplayed the adverse impacts of the CPTPP agreement in Parliament yesterday.  

The Deputy Minister said that it is clear that the CPTPP will not have a negative impact on the agriculture sector because it will not impact subsidies meant for the agriculture exports.

He also added that the claim CPTPP will not allow the government to implement bans on basic food exports such as chicken is not true. He also assured that there will not be any sudden eradication of import duties on agricultural products.

Chin Tong explained that Malaysia has been given a longer staging period of 16 years to reduce and eradicate import duties, including those on agricultural products plus keeping our import duties on chickens and eggs via the tariff rate quota system.

CPTPP is about trade liberalization and there have been many reports on how liberalization will have great impacts on local farmers. Is MITI trying to control the flood of imports with stopcocks after the flood gates have been opened? The Minister's mitigating measures seem so.

Recently Local Fruit Farmers Association president, Francis Hong said that local fruit farmers are incurring huge losses as the prices of some fruits and vegetables have plunged due to a glut following imports of such produce from Vietnam in recent weeks.

Some of the fruit prices have dropped by about 50 percent, affecting local farmers. Francis Hong explained that since Chinese New Year, the farmers have seen a surge in imports of cheap fruits and vegetables from Vietnam. (Vietnam is also a member country in the CPTPP) and it is hurting small farmers badly. 

He pleaded with the government to keep “barriers” against imports to protect local farmers. 

How did the Deputy Minister come to the conclusion that CPTPP enhances food security when in reality it will increase our food import bill? Food security should mean, we as a sovereign nation are capable of meeting our local demand with produce from our local farmers. Does MITI’s dictionary spell out food security synonymous to importing food to meet our needs?

Our Import Dependency Ratio (IDR) has increased from 7.3 percent to 13.7 percent from 1987 to 2015. This places the rakyat in a very precarious position, vulnerable to any changes in global political and economic events. (IDR – explains countries dependence on agricultural imports to meet local demand)

We live in a world with uncertainties. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine Russian war has shown us that borders can be closed and imports can be disrupted causing food prices to rise. We can only shield ourselves if we have sufficient domestic produce.

MITI seems ignorant of the implications of trade liberalization on farmers as a whole, as it keeps highlighting that eggs, rice, chicken and milk will be protected by tariffs. 
How about the rest?  These few items can be still controlled with approved import permits, but all other agricultural products will see import tariffs pushed to zero. We can only impose import restrictions indirectly through phytosanitary or halal requirements.

Chin Tong assured the Parliament that Malaysia has a 16 years staging period to reduce import tariffs, but he failed to reveal that nearly 85 percent off all imported agricultural products will see tariff elimination in one year! Only the balance 15% of products will see a staggered elimination over the remainder 15 years.

MITI’s is dangerously downplaying the impacts of the CPTPP on our farmers and food sovereignty. We don’t need piecemeal responses, but a holistic study on the impacts  with increased imports.

The Minister completely avoided the elephant in the room, when there was no mention about the mandatory compliance to the UPOV91 (International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) convention required by the CPTPP. The UPOV is an intergovernmental organisation set up to essentially protect the interest of corporate plant breeders. 
UPOV will take away the rights of our small farmers to save and share seeds, a practice that they have been doing for generations. It is important for small farmers in developing countries to be allowed to continue such traditions as it prohibits large agro corporations from dictating and controlling seeds used by farmers. 
One such case was the one bought by Pepsi Co against the Indian farmers claiming that the farmers were growing a particular variety of potatoes similar to the variety of potatoes used by PepsiCo to manufacture potato chips under the brand name ‘Lays’. According to PepsiCo, the farmers were ‘infringing the right’ of the company!

PSM calls upon the Prime Minister to immediately assess the real impacts of the CPTPP and not be misled by half-baked assurances from MITI. 
PSM has lost confidence in the MITI Ministers, Tengku Zafrul and Liew Ching Tong to objectively assess the adverse impacts of CPTPP. CPTPP is beyond trade as it influences our food sovereignty, government procurement, investors rights, bumi policy and government policy space. 
Don’t leave the issue of CPTPP in MITI’s hands!

*Sivarajan A. is the Secretary-General of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).*