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Malaysians stage "zombies" protest against TPP

Dressed up as zombies, the protesters are trying to paint a grim picture of what will happen if Malaysia becomes a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

KUALA LUMPUR: As trade ministers gather in Singapore for talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, some Malaysians have taken their protest to the streets in dramatic fashion.

They are worried that the trade pact will deny people access to affordable medicine despite government assurances that national interests will not be jeopardized.

The protesters are hoping that Prime Minister Najib Razak will stand firm and not be pressured ahead of US President Obama's upcoming visit to Malaysia.

Dressed up as zombies, the protesters are trying to paint a grim picture of what will happen if Malaysia becomes a part of the agreement.

These activists believe that the people will suffer as prices of drugs will spiral, and access to affordable health-care is denied as a result of monopoly and patent extension.

The TPP is a multilateral free trade agreement currently being negotiated by 12 countries.

The Malaysian government said it will enhance the country's competitiveness, widen market access, and save the country millions of dollars through tariff waivers and elimination of import duties.

Many remain unconvinced.

"I don't think that missing the boat is more important than making sure our patients get access to medicines," said Fifa Rahman, a policy manager at the Malaysian AIDS Council.

Rizal Jaafar, senior associate at the Malay Economic Action Council, said: "They tell us that they understand the situation, they understand the scenario but behind the scenes, the negotiation still on-going."

Trade minister Mustapa Mohamed has been trying hard to engage the people.

His ministry has organised numerous public forums to explain to the public, and a by-partisan committee was set up in parliament, to discuss the issue.

"In our view, if we are not part of this, we might miss the boat and we will miss the opportunity to be part of the process in crafting and drafting future trade rules," said Mustapa.

As he embarks on further negotiations, he has given his word that the country's interests and sovereignty are his utmost priority.

"Whatever compromises are achieved in the next few days are consistent with some of the provisions in the constitution and also some of our core policies, so, of course what it will do, it's got to be in with national interest," he said.

While Malaysia is trying to negotiate "carve-outs" or exceptions for some of its pro-Malay policies and state-owned enterprises, Mustapa admits that investor state dispute settlement and intellectual property rights are two major outstanding issues that are yet to be resolved.

However, getting the people's support for the TPP is another challenge all together.

The government will be hoping more Malaysians will start to believe in its benefits before President Obama's visit in April.

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