Written by Mahathir Ahamad

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is probably the most talked about economic issue of the year, apart from our age-old favourite housing. Today the TPPA will even be the focus of protest marches around the country. So what is the TPPA? It is a proposed regional regulatory and investment agreement with twelve participating countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. According to the partner countries the TPP is intended to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, to promote innovation, economic growth and development, and to support the creation and retention of jobs.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) took five years and 19 rounds of negotiations before it was concluded on Oct 5, 2015. The deal is aimed at freer trade by reducing tariffs, improving markets access and setting common ground for labor and environmental standards and intellectual property protections. The twelve countries namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam represent 40 per cent of the world economy. The following are the chronology of events leading up to the signing of the TPPA:

  • 2006: Started off as the Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement with four countries namely New Zealand, Singapore, Chile and Brunei.
  • 2008: March, the United States joined the negotiations and 10 months later, Australia, Peru and Vietnam followed suit.
  • 2009: March, first negotiation scheduled for the new pact, included four more countries (total number: 8). However, the negotiations postponed due to the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
  • 2010: The first round in Australia in March, parties exchanged views and agreed to gather information and draft papers as well as discuss the participation of more countries. The second round of negotiations in San Francisco, California, June the same year whereby parties discussed the agreement architecture and the relationship between the TPP and the existing free trade agreements (FTAs). In the same month, the third round of negotiations in Brunei, whereby Malaysia joined as the ninth member of TPP. The fourth round of negotiations in Auckland, New Zealand, focus on creating the text for individual TPP chapters.
  • 2011: TPP kicked off its fifth round of negotiations in February in Santiago, Chile. Between March and December another five rounds of negotiations took place respectively in Singapore, Vietnam, Chicago, Peru and Kuala Lumpur.
  • 2012: Dallas, Texas, hosted the 12th round of negotiations in May. In the same year, the 13th, 14th and 15th round of negotiations took place in San Diego, California, Leesburg, Virginia, and Auckland, New Zealand, respectively. During the 15th round, Mexico and Canada entered the negotiations.
  • 2013: The 18th Round of TPP negotiations in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. Japan formally joined the TPP negotiations on July 23 the same year. The 19th and final round of negotiations took place in Brunei. Thereafter, TPP leaders, ministers as well as chief negotiators held various meetings to iron-out and finalise the agreement over a period of two years.
  • 2015: On Oct 5 in Altanta, TPP ministers announced that they had concluded TPP negotiations and a full text of the agreement, consisting 30 chapters, were made public soon after. On Nov 18, the leaders of 12 countries sealed the TPP free trade initiative in the Philippines on the sidelines of a two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. In Malaysia, the results of a cost-benefit study by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies and PricewaterhouseCoopers on the impact of the TPP was uploaded on the website of the Ministry of International and Trade Industry on Dec 3.
  • 2016: The text of the TPP Agreement (TPPA) tabled in the Malaysian Parliament on Jan 26. Among the 12 nations involved in the TPPA, only Malaysia had brought the TPPA to Parliament for approval before it was signed. After two-days of intense debate, both the Dewan Negara and the Dewan Rakyat approved a motion allowing Malaysia’s participation in TPPA.

Looking at the scenario mention above, the writers have decided to pick The Star Online representing for their local news and Cable News Network (CNN) for their international news on this issue. Thus, we will able to see the evidence related to the coverage, news direction and social implications among the society whom affected to this new economic approach.

The Star Online views: In their business section, it highlight what would be the contribution towards Malaysia’s economy growth. Malaysia’s Parliament authorized the government to sign and ratify the 6350-page Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). From this deal, advantages such cheap labor, Strategic partnership between participant, corporate interests and foreign investor, multilateralism and so on would contribute to national gross expansion and strengthening local currency. Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is projected to increase by US$107bil (RM444bil) to US$211bil (RM876bil) over 2018-2027, which would raise GDP growth between 0.6 and 1.15% in 2027, Hike in export growth is projected to be outpaced by increase in import growth – therefore trade surplus is projected to narrow between 4.3 and 5.2% of GDP in 2027 and Firms to benefit from access to US government procurement, greater digital liberalization and stronger enforcement of trade secret protection.

As we all know, United State is the main power who seems subtly control the agreement. Although the deal might highlight neutrality among participant, yet public need to understand the backbone and the real driver that would determine the future of the deal. The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) faces its biggest challenge with the election of its major critic Donald Trump as US president. The agreement will collapse without the participation of United States, as being clarified by Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, minister of International Trade and Industry. For TPPA to be ratified, it needs at least six countries, accounting for 85% of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 signatories and without the United States, there will be no TPPA.

CNN views: As one of the America’s most influential resources in news, CNN distinguish the benefits and the positive outcome in embarking the deal. It would create a free trade zone around the Pacific, bringing together 12 countries that account for 40% of the world’s economy. Critics say it will mean more U.S. jobs get shipped overseas. Advocates say it’ll expand U.S. exports and create more well-paying jobs here at home.

The deal will be a major issue in the presidential election. Already candidates such as Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on the right have come out opposed to it. Hillary Clinton, whose husband pushed free trade deals including NAFTA while he was president, has yet to take a position on the TPP. The deal still needs the approval of Congress before it takes effect in the United States.

The informative discussion published in CNN in order to explain the pro and cons of the deal. There is fierce debate on whether free trade deals are good or bad for American workers. Critics of the deal argue TPP will provide unfair competition for U.S.-made goods from businesses that use low-wage workers overseas. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, estimates that NAFTA, directly cost the U.S. at least 700,000 jobs in its first 20 years. However, the TPP could mean lower prices for U.S. consumers and businesses. If the deal means that manufacturers here can use cheaper imported parts or raw materials they’ll be more competitive. Economists who support free trade argue that can improve a nation’s wealth, even if some low-wage jobs are lost overseas in the process.

One thing that attracted me in preparing this report is that previously, CNN does not cover or highlight any news regarding TPPA in their news portal, since August 1st until 31st January 2015. But now that the TPP has become a major factor in the presidential campaign, that silence is finally ending. Media Matters for America studied cable news coverage of TPP negotiations from August 1, 2013 to January 31st, 2015, and found that the agreement was mentioned just once on CNN and Fox News during that period. One explanation may rest in who owns these media conglomerates. During the month of July 2016 alone, the TPP was mentioned 455 times by CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC; about six times as often as during the entire 18-month period.

To conclude, media play important role in shaping the content direction towards their target audiences or to be general, the masses. The media itself also being control and shape by the owner or the gatekeeper, which is normally the backbone behind all the agenda and the manipulative hand that constitute the country. If the media said that apple can cure Aids, then the medical industries would be vanish and no value, even though it’s factual enough to persuade the public.