Why our food sovereignty stands to lose with CPTPPBY NURFITRI AMIR
Dear Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Mohamad Sabu,
We who signed this memorandum would like to express concern about Malaysia's participation in and ratification of the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership) which will have a large negative impact on farmers, livestock breeders and fishermen as well as on the food security and sovereignty of Malaysians in the future.
What we want to state is not new because before the last government’s Cabinet meeting to ratify this agreement on September 30, 2022, there have been many memoranda and media statements made by farmers, livestock breeders and fishermen as well as relevant NGOs urging that the government does not ratify this agreement in haste.
However, our voice is often portrayed by profiteering capitalists and open market advocates as baseless and unfounded.
Therefore, this memorandum will answer and unpack the malicious accusations involved, with facts and references and will explain to YB the real facts about the adverse effects of this agreement on the country's agriculture sector.
If the parties supporting this agreement claim that the CPTPP will allow them to export more goods and make greater profits.
What right do they have to deny farmers the right to share and sell seeds freely and deny fishermen the right to fish freely just because they want to export more?
Does the government now only care about the exporters without caring about the local farmers and fishermen who work hard every day to ensure that the country's food security can be met?
What's more, according to a study carried out by a senior economist from UNCTAD using World Bank methodology, participation in the CPTPP will reduce Malaysia's external trade balance by RM9.6 billion per year for the next ten years.
This is because by removing tariffs for all imported goods to zero this will encourage additional imports; it is expected that it will go beyond the additional exports under the CPTPP.
CPTPP Denies Farmers' Right to Share and Sell Seeds
Article 18.7.2 of the CPTPP states that countries that ratify the CPTPP must join the UPOV Convention 1991. Under Article 18.83.4(b)(iv) Malaysia has a four-year transition period after ratification to join the UPOV 1991.
The Convention aims to provide extensive protection and monopoly rights to plant breeders for the purported purpose of encouraging commercial breeders to invest in research and innovation and produce more new plant varieties.
However, the big problem with the UPOV system is that it is biased and denies the interests and contributions of small farmers.
UPOV prevents farmers from innovating and denies farmers' traditional rights to freely share and sell protected seeds harvested from their own fields. Malaysian farmers have to pay seed royalties for 25 years (for vines and trees) and 20 years (for all other plants).
The monopoly rights given to breeders is also unfair because the parent lines used to produce new varieties are often obtained from traditional varieties that have been bred by farmers for generations or obtained from local community biodiversity resources.
Current Malaysian law, namely the Protection of New Plant Varieties Act 2004 (PNPV 2004) recognizes farmers' rights to seeds as it allows farmers to store, share and sell seeds freely if farmers have surplus protected seeds under certain circumstances as long as they not done commercially.
This Act is unique because it balances different interests (public interest, commercial plant breeders, public breeders and small farmers).
The Act also promotes the realization of the objectives of the International Agreement on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Farmers and Those Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) which are all supported or participated by Malaysia.
It also contains mechanisms to prevent the misappropriation of Malaysia's biodiversity.
The adoption of UPOV 1991 will upset this balance. Malaysia can no longer have the right to refuse the granting of breeder's rights to new plants to protect the public interest such as where there is a negative impact on the environment.
There will be no safeguards against misappropriation of local genetic resources and the applicant will also not have to demonstrate that it has complied with national laws governing access and benefit sharing as well as biosafety laws.
The current recognition of farmer seed systems and separate criteria for registration will also be abolished.
We find that the cost and benefit analysis issued by MITI about Malaysia's obligation to join the 1991 UPOV Convention is inaccurate. The analysis states that farmers can still save seeds without stating that seed sharing and selling activities will be prohibited when protected seeds are involved.
The fact is, the 1991 UPOV Convention has as many as 13 articles that conflict with the PNPV Act 2004 which includes the matters mentioned above.
The MITI report is also wrong because it mentions that seeds are protected by patents when in fact, they are the protection of new varieties of plants with “plant breeder’s rights (not patents) when all conditions under the PNPV Act 2004 are satisfied.
CPTPP Denies Fishermen's Right to Catch Certain Types of Fish
Article 20.16 in the CPTPP text states that subsidies for fishermen can be blocked if a fisherman catches a fish species that is categorized as a declining species due to overfishing. There is no exception in this regard for small fishermen or coastal fishermen.
Although the objective is to protect the dwindling fish species, this regulation is unfair because it puts the blame for the lack of fish species on small fishermen when the main cause of fish extinction is from pollution and the use of prohibited nets by large trawlers.
This will cause the sources of income for fishermen, especially coastal fishermen, to become more and more limited and their lives will become more and more stressful while the root problem of the issue of extinction of fish species is not dealt with effectively.
CPTPP Will Increase the Cost of Farmers and Breeders
The UPOV 1991 system will not only deny farmers the right to seeds but will also increase the price of seeds. A study on the impact of UPOV 1991 in the Philippines found that it would cause seed prices to increase by more than four times if they joined this Convention.
Article 18.47 in the CPTPP text gives 10 years of exclusive marketing protection to agrochemicals sold by the originator company, which an Australian study showed will cause the price of agricultural pesticides to triple.
Although it is better for farmers to switch to natural farming methods, a sudden change in the price of chemical pesticides can cause farmers to go out of business early.
Meanwhile, livestock breeders will bear the cost of veterinary medicines which are more expensive as a result of the stricter intellectual property laws based on the Intellectual Property chapter of the CPTPP.
CPTPP Require 0% Import Tariff for Almost All Food Products
Article 2.4 in the CPTPP text requires the abolition of tariffs or import taxes to 0% on almost all processed and unprocessed agricultural products. In addition to providing income to the government, import tariffs are also a mechanism to protect local farmers, fishermen and breeders from the dumping of cheap and possibly low-quality imported products.
Among the local agricultural product markets that have already been disturbed by the dumping of imports are bananas, pineapples, watermelons and rambutan.
In 2017, the dumping of imports of these products from the Philippines, India and Vietnam caused the price of bananas in the market to plummet and angered local farmers.
In Johor for example, the price of bananas that year which usually hovers around RM2 to RM2.50 per kilogram had dropped sharply to RM1.60 or lower.
For example, through the CPTPP the banana import tax which can reach up to 5% will be eliminated to 0%. While the pineapple import tax of 60 sen per kilogram will be eliminated to 0 sen.
SPS Mechanism and Import Permits are More Difficult to Use under CPTPP
The import of vegetables that are not taxed such as chili still requires an import permit under the regulatory agencies such as FAMA and the Sabah and Sarawak Departments of Agriculture.
This control is in the form of food product hygiene (sanitary and phytosanitary or SPS standards).
In the CPTPP, import permits that aim to protect consumers and the local market cannot be used freely by the agencies involved such as FAMA and MAQIS to protect farmers and breeders from import dumping.
This means that when cheap, low-quality foreign chilies flood the market and affect local farmers in the future, FAMA will face new restrictions to help reduce imports through the SPS mechanism.
Cases like this have occurred in 2016, 2017 and 2018 following the dumping of chili imported from Vietnam.
In 2018, for example, the Minister of Agriculture directed FAMA to use the SPS mechanism to help farmers control the sudden influx of imported chilies.
The same applies to meat imports which are not taxed but controlled by import permits by agencies such as MAQIS.
MAQIS will ensure that every imported meat consignment that is brought in has a valid import permit, veterinary health certificate, halal certificate and phytosanitary certificate so that the meat source is disease-free and safe to eat while helping to reduce imported products that can affect the local market.
Effects of CPTPP on Local Entrepreneurs, Consumers and National Food Security
The opportunities for local entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector will shrink because when the CPTPP comes into force.
Foreign investors are free to supply services and products to government agencies and there is no priority that the government can give to local entrepreneurs except in some very limited categories such as procurement government for some selected products and services.
The dumping of imported products and foreign services into the country can cause factories and local entrepreneurs to go out of business.
Because the entry of imported goods, food or products for daily use will not be strictly controlled. Dumping of imported products will please consumers in the short term.
However, unknowingly this will kill local producers and traders so that all consumer needs will depend on foreign countries.
This means in the future it will be difficult for the rakyat and the government to freely control prices and supply to effectively to meet the needs of the people without obstacles from the CPTPP.
After all, when there are no local producers, we can only accept whatever price is set by suppliers from foreign countries.
The cost and benefit analysis issued by MITI does not directly examine the impact of the CPTPP on farmers, livestock breeders, fishermen and entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector, or the impact on consumers.
In fact, there is no impact assessment on our nation’s food security.
We would like an explanation, has the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security carried out a detailed assessment and study regarding the matters mentioned above?
It is very important for the Ministry that this matter be publicly shared with the rakyat and that our concerns be brought to the Cabinet meeting so that Malaysia's participation in the CPTPP agreement can be reviewed for the benefit of farmers, fishermen and livestock breeders as well as the nation's food security.
We hope YB will take this issue seriously and ensure that this matter is studied in-depth before a final decision is taken. We ask for an opportunity to meet YB for further discussion.
Nurfitri Amir is the Coordinator of the Malaysia Food Sovereignty Forum.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.