Protest Against 3rd Round of US-Malaysia FTA talks

Original Publication Date: 
29 October, 2006

Some 300 activists today held a noisy protest calling for the suspension of free-trade agreement (FTA) talks with the United States, Malaysia's major trading partner.

Activists armed with banners, posters and a coffin to signify the deadly implications of the pact on the cost of drugs gathered outside a Kuala Lumpur hotel where the negotiations are taking place, chanting "Stop the FTA, US officials go home".

Xavier Jayakumar, chairman of the Coalition Against Malaysia-US FTA, demanded an immediate halt to the talks and urged the government to conduct a "cost and benefit study" before pursuing the trade deal.

"Has Malaysia done any evaluation on what will be the impact on the society if we sign the FTA?" he said.

"Why the secrecy over the FTA? We are equally concerned over the fast pace of the talks," added Jayakumar, whose alliance represents 34 civil and political groups.

Trade representatives from both sides began three-day talks Monday, the third round of negotiations which are being fast-tracked with the aim of striking a deal before June, when Congress will regain the right to amend any agreement.

Washington has said it expects access to Malaysia's sensitive car market. Malaysia in turn seeks more US access for its textiles, clothes and electrical products.

High cost of medicines

During the hour-long protest, the organisers handed a memorandum to a Malaysian trade official calling for a suspension to allow for public consultation and a study on the impact of the trade deal.

Sivarasa Rasiah, vice-president of Keadilan, warned that under the FTA Malaysia might not be able to import cheap generic medicines.

"This will push the cost of medicine sky high. Malaysians will not be able afford them. That is why we have brought the coffin here. The FTA will have a deadly effect on us," he said.

Syed Sharir, president of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress which represents some 750,000 employees, said an FTA with the US would hurt workers.

"We are concerned about job security. Foreign investors are only interested in business and not the welfare of workers," he said.