The following is a response to Liew Chin Tong’s statement in Parliament that CPTPP will not adversely impact agriculture and local farmers.
PSM is disgusted by the lackadaisical response from 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 claimed that the CPTPP would not have a negative impact on the agriculture sector because it would not affect subsidies intended for agriculture exports. He also added that the claim that CPTPP would not allow the government to implement bans on basic food exports, such as chicken, was not true. He assured that there would 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, and to keep import duties on chickens and eggs through the tariff rate quota system.
CPTPP is about trade liberalization, and there have been many reports on how liberalization will greatly impact local farmers. Is MITI trying to control the flood of imports with stopcocks after the floodgates have been opened? The Minister’s mitigating measures seem so.
Recently, the 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%, 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 (which 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. (https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2023/02/19/vietnam-imports-cost-local-farmers-dearly)
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 that 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 as synonymous with importing food to meet our needs?
Our Import Dependency Ratio (IDR) has increased from 7.3% to 13.7% 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 the country’s dependence on agricultural imports to meet local demand.)
We live in a world with uncertainties. The Covid pandemic and the Ukraine-Russian war have 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. What about the rest? These few items can still be 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 Parliament that Malaysia has a 16-year staging period to reduce import tariffs, but he failed to reveal that nearly 85% of all imported agricultural products will see tariff elimination in one year! Only the remaining 15% of products will see a staggered elimination over the next 15 years.
MITI 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 of increased imports.
The Minister completely avoided the elephant in the room by not mentioning the mandatory compliance with the UPOV91 (International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) convention required by the CPTPP. UPOV is an intergovernmental organization set up to protect the interests 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 prevents large agro corporations from dictating and controlling the seeds used by farmers. One such case was the one brought by PepsiCo against 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 goes 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!
Parti Sosialis Malaysia