Anti-free trade alliance plans mass protest during US-Malaysia trade talks at end-Oct

Original Publication Date: 
18 October, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Malaysian activists Thursday announced a mass a protest during U.S.-Malaysia talks later this month on a free trade pact, saying such an agreement could jeopardize jobs and deprive poor people of cheap, generic drugs.

Xavier Jayakumar, the chairman of the Alliance against the US-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement, said they hope to mobilize as many as 10,000 people when trade officials from both nations meet in Kuala Lumpur for their third rounds of talks Oct. 30.

A total of five rounds of talks are planned before the expected conclusion of the pact by July 2007 - the expiration of U.S. President George W. Bush's authority to negotiate trade deals that require Congress to approve or reject them without adding any amendments.

"We know that Malaysia needs trade ... We don't want to end that," Jayakumar said. "What we want is the government to stop negotiations and tell us what is going on, to be transparent."

He said the government should divulge the items that are up for discussion, and the concessions it is willing to make to Washington.

Jayakumar heads a 35-member coalition that includes three of the country's largest opposition parties, Malaysia's largest trade union, environmental groups and non-governmental organizations with a total of more than 2 million members.

"Malaysia's concern is that if they don't sign, they will get left behind by investors," said Charles Santiago, another of the group's leaders. "But what they don't realize is that you are giving them investor rights over the rights of the people."

The coalition has a long list of concerns including the possible loss of jobs and workers' rights, a lack of protection in the agricultural sector, and the end of cheap, generic drugs now available to those with HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

"If the U.S.-Malaysia FTA is signed, it will only benefit the U.S. drug companies," said Positive Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group director Edward Low, an independent group that helps people with the HIV virus. "Local pharmaceutical companies will not be able to import generic drugs anymore."

The protection of intellectual property rights for drugs, software and other products are key items on the negotiating table, officials have said.

Malaysian officials have said a pact would help the country economically. Malaysia was once a star investment destination in Asia that has in recent years lagged behind China, India and other countries in the region.

Malaysia is the United States' 10th largest trading partner with US$44 billion (?34.38 billion) in two-way trade in 2005, which officials say will double by 2010 if a free trade pact is signed.

Protests against trade talks with America have also taken place in South Korea and Thailand