It is sad that such a highly talented individual can be ‘hijacked’ into becoming the ‘poster boy’ of corporate America, writes Jeyakumar Devaraj in an open letter to visiting US President Obama.
Dear President Obama,
A part of me wants to say “Welcome to Malaysia” as we Malaysians are generally a hospitable people, and many of us were thrilled when you became the 44th President of the United States. Your ability to communicate, your oratory skills – you are truly an admirable individual!
But one of the things that hold me back from warmly welcoming you to Malaysia is the fact that one of the important items on your agenda is to get our government to agree to the TPPA – the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.
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You must know, Mr President, that the TPPA will increase the prices of medicines for us, making it much more expensive for patients with HIV to get second-line treatment, which they will require once their viruses mutate and become impervious to the effects of the standard therapy. Your pharmaceutical firms have put in clauses such as “data exclusivity” which will impede the importing of generic drugs even after the completion of the patent period by “criminalising” the use of data that was generated by the innovating company. Many patients with cancer will also have difficulty accessing the most effective drugs for their conditions once Malaysia signs on to the TPPA.
Are you aware, Mr President, that your companies want the right to patent surgical procedures and even life forms? The Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) provisions are fast becoming a new form of “fencing up the commons” – the 21st century modality of siphoning the wealth of the developing world to the rich corporations in the advanced countries. Ever since the colonial period, the wealth of the Third World has been ripped off – first through direct rule, then through the control of technology, then through creating indebtedness and control of access to markets. The IPR provisions are the newest method to squeeze wealth from the poorer countries into the bankbooks of the one per cent.
President Obama, you must have heard about the case of Philip Morris, a cigarette manufacturer from the US, suing the Australian government for passing a law requiring all cigarette companies to put pictures of cancer patients on their packages. Philip Morris is claiming that its profits have been “expropriated” by the action of the Australian government, which is likely to reduce cigarette sales in Australia!
What is your stand on this, Mr Obama – don’t you think it obscene that a company has the legal right to sue an elected government that has taken a step to protect the health of its citizens? Aren’t you just a little worried that the provisions in the TPPA give too much power to the giant corporations?
And surely you know that there are several other cases of governments who had signed on to Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses in other Free Trade Agreements getting sued in international tribunals – for stopping companies that are polluting rivers or the ground water, or for banning certain industrial practices that are hazardous to the community, etc? Why then are you coming to canvass for the TPPA, which in many respects resembles a wish list for the corporate bosses?
May I ask you a somewhat impolite question, Mr President? Whose interest are you really representing in visiting Malaysia? That of the American people? I am sure that the vast majority of your citizens would want Malaysians to have better access to life-saving medicines and affordable textbooks. Most Americans would not see anything wrong in actions taken by foreign governments to protect the health of their people or the environment. Your citizens, Mr President, would not agree to many of the provision contained in the TPPA – and perhaps this is why all the TPPA negotiations up till now have taken place behind the backs of not only your citizens, but also without the knowledge of most Congressmen in your country.
Your Secretary of Trade, Mr Fromann recently told our Parliamentary Caucus that the TPPA is a high quality 21st century agreement. Do you agree with that Mr President – negotiating such an important agreement in absolute secrecy, keeping it from the people of all 12 participating countries? What is so “high quality” or canggih (if I may use a Malaysian term) about that? What ever happened to transparency, consultation and spaces for citizen participation?
So Mr President, if you are not here as a representative of the American people, in whose interest have you actually come? The top one per cent – the richest people of this globe – who want access to as much of the world as possible for them to do just what they want to maximise profits? Is that who you really represent, Mr President? For if this is so, it would be really difficult for me to say and truly mean “welcome to Malaysia”.
And it is also really sad that an intelligent and highly talented individual such as yourself can be ‘hijacked’ into becoming the ‘poster boy’ of corporate America – power they say corrupts, and the power wielded by the global top one per cent is awesome! Nevertheless, it is a loss to all of us that your talents have not been used to work towards a world where people come before profits, where CO2 emissions are capped and the environment treated with the reverence it deserves.
Do convey our best wishes to the people of the United States, Mr Obama. We have no quarrel with them and sincerely wish them well, for we understand that the ordinary people of the US are also hurting – the employment status and the real income of the poorer 60 per cent of Americans has actually deteriorated over the past 20 years.
Perhaps one day, in the not too distant future, the ordinary citizens of your country and mine and many other countries will join hands to challenge corporate greed and re-order our societies based on the principles of participatory democracy, social justice and solidarity.
In that new order, Mr President, trade between nations would have an important place, but it would be fair trade that benefits the ordinary citizens of the world, not corporate greed dressed up as “free trade”.