Anti-TPP groups withdraw lawsuit following trade deal’s collapse

By Ida Lim
(From left) Abim president Mohamad Raimi Ab Rahim, lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla and Bantah TPPA coalition deputy chair Azlan Awang at the Federal Court in Putrajaya March 16, 2017. — Picture by Ida Lim

PUTRAJAYA, March 16 ― Three groups opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement today dropped their lawsuit to halt Malaysia from joining the free-trade deal.

The US, which spearheaded the negotiations, and Malaysia have both decided to pull out from the 12-nation pact.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla informed the Federal Court that his clients instructed the withdrawal of the lawsuit as the matter was now academic.

“First by withdrawal of US from the TPP on January 23, 2017 and the second one (is) where our own minister of trade just two days ago had in Parliament confirmed that as the terms of agreement as it stands, Malaysia is not keen to proceed,” he told the court.

The Federal Court panel chaired by the Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif struck out the application and made no order as to costs, as the government's senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan had agreed not to seek any.

The two other judges on the panel are Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop and Datuk Dr Prasad Sandosham Abraham.

Haniff was representing Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim), Urusetia Menangani Gejala Sosial (Unggas) and Persatuan Teras Pendidikan dan Kebajikan Malaysia (Teras).

These three groups had on November 4, 2015 filed a lawsuit against the prime minister, the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the Malaysian government.

They had sought a court order to stop the government from signing the TPP, but had failed in January 2016 to obtain leave for hearing. They had applied for leave to appeal at the Federal Court.

When met outside the courtroom, Haniff said the US' decision to withdraw from the TPP had brought the deal to a "premature" end, owing to a clause in the deal which requires countries with at least 85 per cent in total combined GDP to ratify the signed agreement within two years.

"So when America came out of it on January 23, America itself holds 60 per cent, so it is impossible to obtain 85 per cent, that is what brings TPPA to a premature end," he said.

Noting recent developments both in the US and locally, Haniff said it proved that his clients were on the "right path".

"It clearly shows the last six years, all the various NGOs' complaints on the invalidity and effect of TPPA under the Constitution which had not been recognised by the country, are now vindicated," he said.

Today, ABIM president Mohamad Raimi Ab Rahim said “moral victory” for Malaysia has been achieved.

“And we hope in the future, should another superpower or any other future partners, another TPP or another form of partnership agreement take place; this will be a lesson to all Malaysians and a caution to government for not consulting the public and neglecting strong protest which are based on facts and figures and not mere sentiments,” he told reporters here.

He said the anti-TPP groups will continue to monitor to see if Malaysia engages in any trade deals which are unfair.

"We will monitor and if necessary, we will take legal action," he said.

Bantah TPPA coalition deputy chairman Azlan Awang said the group's work may not be over yet, voicing concern over Malaysia's engagement in talks for the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal between Asean and six other countries.

"We fear the RCEP will be another TPPA in another form," he said.

Azlan expressed the group's two lingering concerns, including whether the government will still pursue the proposed amendments to Malaysia's laws to align them with the TPPA.

"And also in the RCEP, will we take the same approach with provisions that don't benefit the country? That is our concern, we will always look out for such trade injustices," he said.

While welcoming trade deals, Azlan said the rules under such agreements must not be to the extent where Malaysians' interests are set aside or where Malaysia's sovereignty is undermined.