TPPA a bad deal for Malaysia, can’t isolate China, only trade growth defines merits of TPP

KUALA LUMPUR: United Nations assistant director-general and coordinator for economic and social development, food and agriculture organisation, Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram (pix) has called on the government not to join the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) as it provides little benefit for Malaysia.

“I am extremely disappointed. I think it is going to affect, not only the Malaysian business community, but also Malaysian consumers and citizens adversely,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the Khazanah Megatrend Forum 2015 .

On Monday, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) said the recently concluded TPPA negotiations had agreed to take into consideration almost all of Malaysia’s concerns and sensitivities such as government procurement, state-owned enterprises and bumiputra issues.

The TPP is a trade agreement initiative involving 12 countries namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam.

Miti said the TPPA will be presented to parliament once the complete and official text of the agreement is prepared.

Bloomberg reported that Malaysia’s state-owned enterprises may suffer from the deal, which calls for equal access to government procurement even though electronics, chemical products, palm oil and rubber exporters benefit from it.

Jomo said that the TPPA is politically motivated, in that it is an attempt by the US to try and isolate China, with minimum trade advantages for Malaysia.

“For example, if Malaysia produces solar panels it can’t be sold in the US and elsewhere. These are all contravening the bilateral agreements. You cannot expect the TPPA to overcome that,” he explained.

On intellectual property rights, Jomo said that the most significant implication is the cost of medication.

“They have exclusive rights and have been depriving people from the benefits of this. This is scandalous and inhumane, it cannot explain why Malaysia agreed to this,” he said.

In a statement late on Monday however, Miti had reiterated that the TPPA should not hinder the public’s access to affordable drugs and healthcare, while ensuring the necessary incentives for pharmaceutical innovators to produce new drugs and medicines.

Even though there will be “small” benefits, Jomo said the government should look at it as a whole, especially from the cost perspective.

He also said foreign complainants will have more legal resources for dispute settlement through new arbitration panels compared with those from developing countries.

“Even in the negotiations, they (developing countries) are not very well prepared, and everyone knows most of the developing countries just accepted what was given to them. It was the developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan that were insisting on it and the US compromised to them,” he added.

Meanwhile, Miti secretary-general Tan Sri Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria stressed that the full text of the TPPA will be made available to the public soon.

“We’ve nothing to hide, at the end of the day, the important thing is we want to be sure this works for Malaysia,” she said.

She does not foresee the TPPA taking effect in the next two years considering it has to be approved by every participating country

It will be a long process, maybe two years or more, I don’t know,” she added.

A cost benefit analysis commissioned by Miti to determine the attractiveness of the deal is yet to be completed.

TPPA cost benefit analysis still pending

Should have been finalised earlier for the sake of public understanding

PETALING JAYA: The cost benefit analysis on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) should have been finalised and released earlier for the sake of public understanding, Bantah TPPA group chairman Mohd Nizam Mahshar said in a statement yesterday.

Commenting on the conclusion of the TPPA negotiations, he said the cost benefit analysis should have been finalised and released earlier, to provide the public and interested parties with a greater understanding of the TPPA and its implications.

The release of the cost benefit analysis has been delayed for months.

“Until now, it has not been released and we only have three months from the official date of the negotiation’s conclusion to the date that it has to be signed,” he added.

International Trade and Industry Minister, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said in a Facebook posting yesterday that the contents of the TPPA deal will be made public next month and presented to parliament for debate within the next two months.

The minister said it would also include the completed cost benefit analysis.

“This does not mean a thing. Even though debated by parliamentarians, the agreement cannot be amended,” Mohd Nizam said.
“From this day to the next 90 days Malaysia has only two choices, either to take the TPPA agreement as a whole or to reject it completely. We still have a say if we choose to speak up,” he added.

Nizam said despite the conclusion of the negotiations, the group is maintaining its position that the TPPA deal will not benefit the country’s trade or economic health.

He said the possible impact includes restrictions of policy space, intrusions on legal and political sovereignty, huge impact to small and medium enterprises and infant industry, access to affordable medicine, as well as intellectual property effects to knowledge and information institutions and industries.

Meanwhile, the recently formed coalition party Parti Amanah Negara said it hoped all comments from the public will be considered seriously.

“We also hope all necessary action will be taken and the debate will not merely be an exercise in ‘public relations’,” its communication director Khalid Abd Samad said in a statement.

He added that the minister previously had acknowledged that there were several concerns regarding the TPPA, saying among the concerns in the agreement is that it seeks to ensure free competition with minimal government control or intervention.

“This will only result in stronger companies overcoming all others and dominating the market,” Khalid said, explaining that local companies, which are much smaller than the United States multinational companies and other member countries will not be able to compete and therefore become sidelined.

Commenting on the intellectual property rights issue, Khalid said it would have a direct impact specifically on the price of medicine, and enforcement of intellectual property rights would cause higher prices of medicine.

“Even though this may be good for the pharmaceutical companies, it will certainly have a negative effect on the population as a whole,” Khalid added, saying that the party is worried that the deal will only bring short-term benefits, while increasing the country’s dependency on specific sources of revenue.

Meanwhile, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s Centre for public policy studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said the Ministry of International Trade and Industry should hold several town hall meetings to explain the TPPA deal to the public.

“We cannot afford to leave important national agreements and treaties only to politicians to decide, as they may have their own political deals to settle. We all have to actively participate in the debate outside parliament as well,” he added. – The Sunbiz

TPP cannot ‘isolate China’ – Chinese economy increasingly open, inclusive: economist

The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement will not isolate China or seriously hurt the Chinese economy, experts said Wednesday, adding it could lead the world’s second-largest economy to reach similar deals with other nations, after a deal was reached on the TPP earlier this week.

Amid widespread online pessimism over the trade pact among 12 Pacific Rim nations that some believe deliberately excluded China, Chinese economists said such anxieties have been overblown.

Huang Wei, director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the TPP will affect China, but will have a “minimal negative impact” on the Chinese economy in the long run because of the economy’s size and its irreplaceable role in regional and global markets.

Huang believes the TPP creates more of a “psychological effect” on China that the country has been left out by its neighbors and trading partners from such a significant trade agreement. “But don’t turn pale just at the mention of a tiger,” she told the Global Times on Wednesday.

She said, if anything, the trade accord will push China to further engage with regional and global economies and pursue more trade agreements with countries in Asia and around the world, which will help the Chinese economy grow and better compete globally.

Chen Fengying, an expert at the Institute of World Economics Studies under the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, also believes that the TPP will not isolate China from the regional economy and could even be beneficial.

“Given the important role China plays in regional and global economics, a single agreement won’t isolate China,” Chen told the Global Times Wednesday. She added that if the TPP can help build a more open and prosperous Asia, it will be conducive for the Chinese economy.

Both Huang and Chen’s comments come after trade ministers from the US, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, and New Zealand reached a deal.

After days of negotiations on the details of the deal in Atlanta, US officials announced Monday that an agreement had been reached, ending years of talks, though the deal still needs to go through the legislative process of each country before it can be signed and implemented.

Prevailing issues

Some posts on popular social media platforms in China suggested Wednesday that China’s own issues in areas such as intellectual property protection, environmental standards and currency policies prevented it from being included in the deal, while others said the US is trying to single out China and counter China because the US feels its economic and political dominance is being threatened.

Experts said understanding the TPP’s impact should not only be based on the “US conspiracy theory” or the “China-deserves-it” angle.

Zhang Jianping, a foreign trade expert at the National Development and Reform Commission, told the Economic Daily that China lags behind in meeting the TPP’s requirements, such as environmental, finance and labor standards. It will take a long time for China to reach those standards, and that is why China held back in joining the TPP, he said.

Chen also said that intellectual property protection, environmental standards and other factors might have been reasons why China did not sit at the negotiating table, but such a move has pushed China to improve in such areas, as it holds numerous trade talks with countries in Asia and beyond, including TPP member-nations.

China engages world

China has reached separate free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, and Singapore, who are also involved in the TPP, while continuing talks with the US, Japan and other countries on free-trade deals.

China is also engaged in regional multilateral trade talks, such as the Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia.

All these efforts and other projects such as the “Belt and Road” initiative and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) show the Chinese economy is moving toward being more open and inclusive, Chen said. It will help the country to maintain its increasing influence over regional and global trade, she added.

Chen also said she believes these trade deals are not mutually exclusive, saying they can complement each other by building a more open and fair regional economy in the Asia-Pacific.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said Tuesday that China is open to any trade agreement “compatible” with rules established by the World Trade Organization, and that is conducive to the regional economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region.- Global Times

Only trade growth will define merits of TPP

Only trade growth will define merits of TPPLabourers work at a garment factory in Sai Dong, outside Hanoi, Vietnam. [Photo/Agencies]

At a critical moment when trade is set to grow less than the global economy for the first time in the last four decades, there is no reason not to welcome the ambitious pact that 12 Pacific Rim countries reached on Monday to create the largest free trade area of the world.

That is why China’s Ministry of Commerce said on Tuesday that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one of the key free trade agreements for the region and China is open to any mechanism that follows the rules of the World Trade Organization and can boost the economic integration of the Asia-Pacific.

As a top global trading power that has hugely contributed to and benefited from the global trade growth for the last two decades, China sincerely hopes the TPP pact and other free trade arrangements in the region can strengthen each other and boost trade, investment and economic growth in the Asia-Pacific, to benefit not just the region but also the rest of the world.

It is also the common wish of the international community that, as a long-term driving force, the current slow pace of global trade growth should be revived through deeper and wider reforms of the international trade system to fuel a sustainable global recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.

The appealing promise that the TPP may reshape industries and liberalize commerce in 40 percent of the world’s economy has understandably given rise to praise such as the “most ambitious trade pact in a generation”.

Yet the real implications of the TPP deal are far from clear since it has been largely negotiated under a blanket of secrecy to facilitate give-and-take among the signatories.

The power of a successful trade deal is to maximize as much as possible each participant’s comparative advantages in global trade while minimizing predictable political opposition from various domestic vested interests.

Nevertheless, even before the five-year marathon talks have secured a really workable arrangement, US President Barack Obama hastened to paint the pact as a way of stopping China from writing the rules of the global economy in an illusion that he may easily win over the domestic political support he expects.

However, if the deal is based on the political priority of one partner, rather than the shared benefit of all partners, it would be hard to believe that it can ensure free market trade as it is being touted.

The world needs a trade-boosting deal. The United States has a huge onus to prove the merits of the TPP.  – China Daily

Economic woes a test for South East Asia

Speculative attacks will challenge reserves, defences built after 1997/98

A man is silhouetted as he fishes near Northport in Klang outside Kuala Lumpur June 6, 2014.

Southeast Asia has spent the best past of two decades shoring defenses against a repeat of the Asian financial crisis, including building up record foreign exchange reserves, yet is now feeling vulnerable to speculative attacks again.

Officials are growing increasingly concerned as souring sentiment has made currencies slide and investors reassess risk profiles in an environment where China is slowing and U.S. interest rates will rise at some point.

And while economists have long dismissed comparisons with the 1997/98 currency crisis, pointing to freer exchange rates, current-account surpluses, lower external debt and stricter oversight by regulators, lately there has been a change.

Malaysia and Indonesia, which export oil and other commodities to fuel China’s factories, are looking vulnerable as the world’s second-largest economy heads for its slowest growth in 25 years and the prices of their commodity exports plunge.

“We are worried about the contagion effect,” Indonesian Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said last week, using a word widely used in 1997/98.

In 1997, “the thing happened first in Thailand through the baht, not the rupiah. But the contagion effect became widespread,” he added.

Taimur Baig, Deutsche Bank’s chief Asia economist, said that unlike 1997, when pegged currencies were attacked as over-valued, today’s floating ones are “weakening willingly” in response to outflows.

But there can still be contagion, as markets lump together economies reliant on China or on commodities. “If you see a sell-off in Brazil, that can easily spread to Indonesia, which can spread to Malaysia, and so on,” he said.

Foreign funds have sold a net $9.7 billion of stocks in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia this year, with the bourses in those three countries seeing Asia’s largest net outflows, Nomura said on Oct. 2.

Baig said that as in 1997/98, falling currencies will naturally pose balance-sheet problems for companies with dollar debts and local-currency earnings.

This year, Malaysia’s ringgit MYR= has fallen nearly 20 percent against the dollar and its reserves dropped by about the same percentage, to below $100 billion.

“It’s almost like a perfect storm for Malaysia,” the country’s economic planning minister, Abdul Wahid Omar, said.

Malaysian officials insist the economic fundamentals are stronger than two decades ago, but some economists aren’t sure.

Chua Hak Bin of Bank of America Merrill Lynch said he draws “little comfort” from comparisons with 1997. While in many ways Malaysia’s economy is stronger now, for example by having a current account surplus, its external debt is 70 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 44 percent in 1997, and there’s “significant downside risk even after the sharp ringgit correction”.

None of the three main credit-rating agencies has downgraded Malaysia’s creditworthiness in response to market ructions, but Moody’s said in September the currency’s fall was a symptom of declining exports and other factors negatively impacting key credit buffers.


Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, has a lower external debt relative to GDP – 32 percent – but foreigners also own a large share its local-currency bonds.

This makes the rupiah, down 13 percent against the dollar this year after jumping on Tuesday, vulnerable to souring sentiment.

“We are trying to differentiate ourselves from Malaysia,” Indonesia’s Brodjonegoro said. “At least we can get the inflows, we can still create positive sentiment.”

At end-February, Indonesia’s reserves topped $115.5 billion. On Sept. 21, they were $103 billion.

On Wednesday, the central banks of Indonesia and Malaysia are due to announce fresh reserve figures.

By months of import cover, Southeast Asia’s holdings of foreign reserves still seem sufficient. But looking at them relative to overall foreign financing needs, they are more stretched.

Malaysia’s reserves barely cover its short-term external debt due this year, while Deutsche Bank says Indonesia’s are about 1.5 times what’s needed to finance its debts and current-account deficit.

The Philippines, by contrast, has reserves equal to 11 times its financing needs. The $2 billion monthly remittances from its overseas workers provides a solid buffer.


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A new era for world powers

Meeting of minds: Xi talking to Obama during a high-level ‘Leaders Summit on Peacekeeping’ during the 70th session General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York. — EPA

THE visit last week by President Xi Jinping to the United States was significant on many levels. It will take months, perhaps years, to fully gauge its implications, but it is not too soon to make some preliminary remarks.

While the main focus was on the fact that it was a full scale state visit with all the trappings, the programme actually comprised three legs: a high-profile meeting with US business leaders in Washington State; the formal state visit in Washington DC including meetings with President Barack Obama; and a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

On the first leg, Xi assured the US business community that China would remain open to them – as a market for their products and services, as a destination for their investments, and as a source of the goods US consumers want. The underlying message was a very important one: China is now fully plugged in to the global economy, and intends to remain so forever.

The second leg was more notable for the pomp and ceremony rather than for its tangible achievements. There was a Guard of Honour to be inspected, a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn of the White House, a full-scale state dinner plus several meetings with Obama in greater or smaller groups, and even a “private” stroll in the garden.

The third leg saw Xi in the role of international statesman. His measured address to the world body included a pledge of US$2bil (RM8.82bil) to help poorer countries to develop, and the promise of debt relief to those governments who are most hard up.

All high-profile visits of this type have three distinct audiences – one in the host country, one in the home country, and one in the international community at large.

It is probably fair to say that the public in the US took more interest in the coincidental visit of Pope Francis. Then just when the focus began to swing back toward the Chinese leader, the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner announced his resignation and briefly captured the headlines.

Nonetheless, it is the visit of China’s president that will have left the more enduring and deeper impression, especially with the audience that matters most in politics, the media and commerce. The sight of the titans of US business queueing up to greet him on arrival in Seattle, Washington, will linger, as will the mutual respect shown during the formal proceedings, and the heavyweight address to the UN. All these have raised China’s profile with the US people.

For Obama, the visit required the striking of a delicate balance. His overriding priority during the next 16 months is to preserve the main items of his legacy, in particular the Iran nuclear deal and the affordable healthcare legislation.

That means, if possible, he must try to ensure that another member of the Democratic Party succeeds him. If the Republicans were to take the White House and maintain their majorities in both houses of Congress, they could do a great deal to undermine his achievements.

The audience back home in China cannot fail to have been impressed. There was the president rubbing shoulders with Bill Gates, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg – all household names – who could not wait to greet Xi. Similarly, officials at all levels will have got the message that engagement with the US is inevitable and needs to be handled pragmatically. Recognition for Xi as a major player in front of the UN added further luster.

Other nations around the world will have seen the same events as people in the US and China. Government leaders in Tokyo, Seoul, Pyongyang, Canberra and other capitals will have to factor in the developments in Sino-US relations to their own policies and strategies going forward. The world has changed and a new era has begun. – China Daily

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Job cuts: rightsizing the oil and gas industry

THE slide in global crude oil prices has left a trail of casualties in its wake.

Oil companies and governments that rely on the price of crude oil for profit and revenue have been hurt by plunging receipts from lower crude oil prices.

For countries dependent on commodities such as crude oil, the effect cuts deeper. Their currencies have felt the brunt from the weaker crude oil prices and it is this group of countries that have a reliance on commodities that have seen the biggest depreciation against the US dollar compared with oil importing countries.

While the macro picture hogs the headlines and generates most of the chatter, the real micro cost of plunging crude oil prices has been felt by employment in the sector.

Many oil majors have announced job cuts to manage costs that had spiralled upwards during the boom days in the industry. Oil majors now have resorted to slashing their workforce amid the biggest downturn in the industry for decades.

For Malaysia, that impact is telling. Between January and July, the Malaysian labour market has laid off 6,547 people (not inclusive the voluntary separation schemes for Malaysia Airlines and banks). But 30% of that number, or nearly 2,000 people who lost their jobs, have come from the oil and gas industry alone.

“It is getting worse,” an oil industry executive says on the job cuts plaguing the industry. He says the oil major he works for is in the midst of a rightsizing exercise and that will mean many jobs will need to be slashed in the coming months.

“We have to reach a new equilibrium for the economies in the oil and gas sector.”

And it does not seem like the industry has hit a trough when it comes to retrenchment.

Part of that is down to the outlook for the price of crude oil. Although there is optimism that prices have hit a bottom, there is another school of thought that predicts more pain for the sector.

Supply from shale oil and future Iranian oil, once trade sanctions are lifted, are clouding the supply dynamics for crude oil and gas.

With expectation that oil prices will remain weak for the foreseeable future, oil majors continue to announce job layoffs. More jobs are expected to be cut next year.

In the US alone, oil companies are reported to have laid off more than 86,000 personnel from June last year up to September of this year. With many global giants having a presence in Malaysia, the workforce in the country will likely be included as part of a global cut in workforce.

Poor profit

The main culprit for job cuts among oil and gas has been the financial performance of those companies. As profits plunge, the knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs, and employment is in the crosshair of such cuts.

The hit on leaner employment prospects has already been told through not only the fall in crude oil prices but also cuts in capital expenditure and operating expenditure by Petronas Nasional Bhd. Companies that service the upstream segment of the industry have been the worst hit.

Downsizing: The main culprit for job cuts among oil and gas has been the financial performance of O&G companies. As profits plunge, the knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs, and employment is in the crosshair of such cuts. — EPA
Downsizing: The main culprit for job cuts among oil and gas has been the financial performance of O&G companies. As profits plunge, the knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs, and employment is in the crosshair of such cuts. — EPA

Petronas, the driver of the local oil and gas industry, has cut its operating costs and that has meant lesser demand for services provided by the oil and gas industry.

An industry official says Petronas, for its part, is not retrenching employees at the moment despite pressure to maintain profitability. It will cut bonuses in order to keep its permanent staff.

“There is no rightsizing of permanent staff at Petronas but whether it renews the contracts of high-paying employees is another thing,” he says.

The hardest hit segment on the industry’s value chain has been upstream activity. The cut in the number of exploration rigs and the associated services indicates the predicament the industry is going through.

The collapse in the price of crude oil has meant that companies are less inclined to spend on searching for new sources of crude oil. It makes matters worse when it is already costly to search for such oil in areas such as deepwater oil fields.

“As revenue comes down, staff are being redeployed from upstream to downstream. Staff will also be asked to multi-task but whether they can do that is another thing,” he says.

A pickup in hiring activity in the upstream segment is not expected as long as crude oil prices are anaemic.

Job cuts have taken place in that segment as a result of dimmed prospects in the industry.

With prices not expected to bounce up significantly, job prospects will remain dim. The general consensus is that crude oil prices are expected to remain sluggish for the short- to medium-term and that has necessitated the cut in expenditure and staff costs.

Trickle down effects

The oil and gas sector is not the only segment that has laid off workers as the pace of retrenchments seemed to have picked up pace.

Maybank Investment Bank says in a report that retrenchments rose sharply in the second quarter, up 56.7% year-on-year to 3,213 in the second quarter compared with a 14.4% increase to 2,789 in the first quarter of this year.

“Retrenchments in the construction sector went up as a number of major projects are nearing completion amid slow replenishment rate. The oil and gas sector’s retrenchment has been on the uptrend since the second half of 2014, coinciding with the plunge in crude oil price.

“At the same time, services industries like ‘finance, insurance, real & business services’ and ‘transport, storage & communications’ also showed uptrends,” it says.

Between January and July of this year, statistics indicate that 47% of retrenched workers are skilled, 40% semi-skilled and 13% unskilled.

It is the loss of skilled jobs, such as that by the oil and gas sector, that will have a big knock-on effect on the rest of the economy. The higher than average salaries that those workers once commanded will evaporate from the system and the absence of which will trickle down to the different sectors of the economy.

The slump in the industry has already been felt in the areas surrounding KL City Centre (KLCC), which is said to be the operational hub for oil and gas companies in Malaysia.

Hotel occupancy is down in Kuala Lumpur, especially those around KLCC. The Kuala Lumpur Shangri-la, which is the benchmark for hoteliers in the country, has announced a 10% drop in revenue in the second quarter of this year.

Apart from hotels, rental demand for houses surrounding the KLCC area has been acutely felt with the loss of jobs in the oil and gas industry.

“There has been a knee-jerk reaction especially around the KLCC area,” says a property consultant.

He says tenancies have been cancelled with oil and gas workers retrenched and for those who still have their jobs, their employers are housing them in different areas in the city.

“The numbers are down but it is not significant. There has, however, been a downgrade in the choice of accommodation,” he says.

The outlook though is not going to be rosy. With gross domestic product clocking a growth rate of 4.9% in the second quarter compared with growth of 5.6% in the first quarter, the slower growth rate will eventually bite into the prospects of employment.

“The labour market lags economic activity. There will be a lag of one or two quarters as companies won’t immediately lay off workers,” says an official.


Fewer job vacancies due to wait-and-see attitude.

INDUSTRY experts say the shrinking number of job vacancies in the country is due to companies adopting a “wait and see” approach, putting on hold any expansion plans because of economic uncertainty..

Other worse-affected businesses which cannot afford to wait, they said, are downsizing, contributing to the rising number of retrenchments that totalled 6,547 until July this year..

While retrenchments are pressured to rise, what is worrisome is that the number of job vacancies has been on a decline over the past few years. The new openings for jobs have fallen from 1.62 million jobs in 2012 and 1.4 million in 2013 to only 1.07 million last year..

The biggest drop in vacancies was seen in the manufacturing sector, followed by the services sector..

Vacancies in the manufacturing sector fell from 598,890 in 2012 to 352,784 positions last year, a massive 45% drop in just three years..

Retrenchments in the sector was also the highest last year with 5,716 job cuts..

In the services sector, job vacancies went down from 369,983 in 2012 to 275,199 available positions in 2014, while retrenchments were up by an additional 1,151..

The construction sector also saw fewer job vacancies last year, with only 202,878 positions compared to 310,954 two years earlier..

Vacancies in the mining and quarrying sectors saw a marginal increase, up 19% from 2,180 to 2,605 jobs. But conditions have soured in the mining industry led by the slump in global crude oil prices..

The sector saw retrenchments surge almost four-fold from only 81 in 2012 to 318 job cuts last year..

Economist Yeah Kim Leng says the authorities must scrutinise data very carefully to find out to what extent the drop in job opportunities are due to the slowdown in investments and business expansions..

“The Government needs to look at the factors affecting business confidence and the measures to alleviate these factors..

“Given that the investment pipeline seems healthy, the declining number of vacancies is very surprising,” he says..

Yeah expects the situation to improve in the second half of next year, once the Chinese economy stabilises and commodity prices recover..

The Government is currently mulling the possibility of setting up an Employment Insurance Scheme to help retrenched workers in the country..

Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Abd Muttalib said early this month that the scheme, aimed at helping retrenched workers through temporary financial aid, reskilling and upskilling, was announced in Budget 2015 last year..

“In Malaysia, during the economic crisis of 1997-1998 and 2008-2009, we had a steady increase of unfair dismissal cases filed at the Industrial Relations Department.

“After those periods, the cases returned to a normal pace. With an economic downturn possibly occurring in the near future, we are getting worried that dismissal and retrenchment cases would go up tremendously,” he said..

The total job loss in Malaysia as a result of the 2008/09 global economic crisis was around 40,000, out of which around 60% were in the manufacturing sector..

This was less severe compared with the estimated total job loss of 84,000 during the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis..

The unemployment problem in Malaysia during the global economic crisis was somewhat cushioned by the “more considerate” strategies taken by companies, which included cutting down their operating hours or days and reducing the salaries of their workers, so as to retain as many workers as they possibly could, instead of cutting headcount..

Weak business sentiment.

Although there has been an increase in investment approvals by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority, Yeah says, business sentiment needs to be monitored..

“We must monitor closely to see if they are going ahead with their investments or are pulling out,” he says..

Business conditions in Malaysia have deteriorated this year, with the Business Conditions Index by the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research painting a grim outlook after the second quarter of the year..

The index fell to 95.4 points from 101 points in the previous quarter. A reading below 100 indicates pessimism..

It also found that the local and export sales outlook was bleak, and capacity utilisation rate had dipped further..

The survey, conducted each quarter to assist in assessing the short-term economic outlook, covers a sample of over 350 manufacturing businesses operating in 11 industries..

Areas explored include production level, new order bookings, sales performances, inventory build-up and new job openings..

In June, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar said although Malaysia had more than 400,000 people looking for jobs at any given time, the Government had set a target that 75% of graduates would find employment within six months of graduation..

According to the latest numbers from the Department of Statistics, in July this year, there were 459,900 Malaysians unemployed compared to 394,100 in July last year, a 16.7% increase..

The unemployment numbers have been on a rise every month since April this year, from 429,000 to 460,000 persons jobless in July..

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan says the situation is worrying as it means that many graduates would not be able to secure employment due to the shrinking number of vacancies..

“The ability to create middle-level management vacancies is a challenge now due to the economic condition..

“Nobody is sure what is going to happen, so companies have adopted a wait-and-see attitude..

“They are not making any new commitments. They are just maintaining what they have – if possible – or downsizing,” he says..

Shamsuddin says employers need the extra confidence from authorities in order to fix the situation..

“To stimulate employment, incentives have to be given directly to the sector. For example, there are incentives for companies that hire women who have been on a career break for over six months..

“The same can be done for companies that hire fresh graduates, for example, who have not secured jobs after a certain period,” he says..

This, he says, could be in the form of salary subsidies for the first few months..


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Urgent to tell the truth !

THE greatest tribute that Malaysians can pay to the memory of Kevin Morais and others like him who had sacrificed their lives fighting against the abuse of power is to protect and strengthen those institutions tasked with ensuring that integrity and good governance define our identity as a nation.

Each and every one of those institutions – from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to Bank Negara – is under some sort of stress and strain today. Fulfilling their amanah (trust) – doing what they are required to do by law and convention – has become a major challenge. Why are they in such a situation today?

One, we continue to be burdened with a neo-feudal psychology which accords precedence to unquestioning loyalty to a leader, however wrong he may be, over allegiance to values, principles and institutions associated with integrity. The neo-feudal leader himself expects such blind loyalty and cultivates it assiduously through material rewards and allurements.

Two, in a society where communal consciousness is pervasive there is always a tendency among a significant segment of society to demonstrate fidelity to communal identities, institutions and personalities. Such fidelity often results in the subordination of values such as integrity and honesty.

Three, when loyalty to communal identity becomes obsessive, it is not difficult to whip up fear and hatred of the other to a point where collective fear overwhelms concern for integrity or righteousness. The manipulation of fear, by no means confined to ethnic and religious sentiments, is sometimes a tool that elites employ in order to perpetuate their power.

Four, when a party has been dominant for a long while – as the Barisan Nasional was until 2008 – and has not been held in check by a culture of accountability and transparency, it develops a mindset that is dismissive of anything that questions its exercise of power. Integrity is often the victim of such a mindset.

Five, a major episode in the life of a nation that devastates the integrity of a vital institution of governance can weaken the principle and practice of amanah in society as a whole for decades to come. This is what happened in Malaysia in 1988 when the head of the Judiciary was removed on flimsy, fabricated charges and senior judges dismissed.

For all these reasons, institutions which are expected to preserve and protect values and principles such as truth, justice, integrity and honesty have not been able to function as well as they should. The investigations into 1MDB and the RM2.6bil in the Prime Minister’s personal bank account which have been hampered and hindered by various moves and manoeuvres underscore this.

In more concrete terms, the PAC has been immobilised. There is still no action on the report submitted by Bank Negara to the Attorney-General which called for enforcement. There has been very little progress in apprehending key individuals wanted in both the 1MDB and RM2.6bil investigations.

The Prime Minister has yet to sue the Wall Street Journal for alleging financial improprieties on his part. Those who are concerned about integrity in public life are understandably disillusioned about the whole situation. This may explain why some of them may have sought external avenues to address the malaise.

There is no doubt at all that foreign actors who are focusing upon the current controversies in Malaysia have their own agendas. Given the orientation of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post, one is not surprised that they are exploiting the controversies to achieve their own goals which may include regime change in Putrajaya – a possibility which I had alluded to in an article on Feb 17.

Apart from Prime Minister Najib Razak’s explicit support for Hamas which has incensed Israel and its backers in the United States, it is also quite conceivable that Malaysia’s military cooperation with China reflected in the four-day joint naval exercise between the two nations in the strategic Straits of Malacca from Sept 18 – the biggest that China has conducted with any Asean state – has upset some circles in Washington DC.

It has also been argued that the targeting of Najib in the US media may be part of the attempt to ensure that Malaysia signs up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.

Whatever the motives, it is obvious that the Malaysian Government’s acts of commission and omission on 1MDB and the RM2.6bil account have provided foreign manipulators with a lot of ammunition to hit Najib.

This is why it is extremely urgent to tell the whole truth. The yet to be completed report of the Auditor-General which would be the basis for the reconstituted PAC to finish its work, and the finalisation of the MACC’s investigations, together with Bank Negara’s report which is with the Attorney-General, should reveal the truth about 1MDB and the RM2.6bil account. Foreign investigations may also help.

The Malaysian people should send a clear message to our Government. The investigations into the two related controversies should be closed and the whole truth should be made known to the nation and the world by the end of this year.

To allow the controversies to drag on into 2016 will only bring our nation to the edge of the precipice.


(Dr Chandra Muzaffar has been writing and speaking on integrity in public life since the nineteen seventies.)

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Structural issues including education are holding Malaysia back

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is facing several long-term structural issues in its economy that needs to quickly adjust in accordance with the new realities of the global economy.

This was the conclusion of a panel discussion by representatives of three leading rating agencies – Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services (S&P), Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings – during Malaysia’s Economic Update 2015 forum on “Outside-In Perspective: Economic Outlook for Malaysia” held here.

The agencies said that while the fundamentals of the country, including the financials, were good, the country needed to address several issues that would hold it back in the long-term.

S&P’s associate director of sovereign and international public finance ratings Phua Yee Farn said that one of the issues that needed to be quickly addressed was the state of education in the country.

“As discussed earlier (in the forum) by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar on the education system here, this is something that is very fundamental to improving the level of output and productivity.

“The affirmative action policy has been around for decades and we think that it will continue to be in place here. However, this will continue to cause the brain drain to other countries. The brilliant ones are paid very well and are choosing to go somewhere else,” Phua said.

He, however, also acknowledged that the Government had made some efforts to try and reverse this situation, adding, however, that it would “not be easy”.

“The education system has to go through some structural reforms before we can see the next leap to a real high-income economy,” Phua said.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings’ managing director and global head of sovereign and supranational ratings James McCormack said that being stuck in the “middle-income trap” was something that should be of concern to Malaysia.

“While we are all preoccupied with China and the growth picture there now, the reality is that there is a transformation going on there now from an investment-led, export-oriented economy to a consumption-led, domestic-demand economy.

“Asia, in general, has leveraged off the previous export growth model tremendously. Even if the growth rate may be lower in China, but (structurally) it is a different kind of growth that will be taking place there,” McCormack said.

“It is not one where the rest of Asia can simply feed intermediate products into an export machine that will eventually end up in Europe and the United States. China is already supplying more of these inputs domestically so that trade is actually slowly disappearing,” he added.

He noted that the economies that were more geared to the new consumption model in China were the ones that would benefit from this new economic model there.

“This, however, seems to be more evident in north Asia such as in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea than it is in South-East Asia. These countries in north Asia are heavily invested in China and have companies that are directly selling to Chinese consumers. This is an economic model that is less prevalent in South-East Asia,” he said.

“This is why I worry about Malaysia and South-East Asia being caught in this middle-income trap because the higher value-added products are in north Asia, while the lower end lies in the lower-income countries.

“Because the income levels are moving up here in Malaysia and this is where you get competition from both the top and bottom. this is what the middle income trap is about – getting squeezed in the middle,” he pointed out.

McCormack’s views were also shared by Moody’s vice-president/senior analyst of sovereign risk group Christian de Guzman, who added that Malaysia needed to attract more high-value investments.

By DANIEL KHOO The Star/Asia News Network

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China-US new type of major power relations: positive narratives needed to help turn negative tide

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

New type of great power relations

Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to the US comes amid the two sides’ pledge to push for a “new type of great power relations.” Though tensions come part and parcel of ties between great powers, China and the US have vowed to navigate those dangerous waters through dialogue.

China-US are on way to a new type of major power relations

Recently, worries have been heard in the Western academia and strategic circles on China’s development direction, foreign policy changes and thus the possible deterioration of China-US relations.

Two catchy phrases are mostly used to describe the current situation, the “Thucydides’s Trap” and “tipping point.”

The “Thucydides’s Trap,” which means a rising power generates fear in an established power that it ultimately leads to a war between the two, is not persuasive to describe the possible prospect of nowadays China-US relations. On the one hand, it neglects significant changes of the external environment. In addition, the theory hardly explains the peaceful transition of power in history.

On the other hand, the “Thucydides’s Trap” puts too much blame on the threat of the rising country, missing the possibility that the established country could be more comfortable in launching a preemptive war.

“Tipping point” is another phrase that has caused a round of discussion about China-US relations in both countries. David Lampton, a senior China scholar, delivered a speech in May, worrying that China-US relations were approaching “a tipping point.” After that, some US politicians and scholars followed the suit and expressed worries about bilateral relations. Even in China, people began to write articles, discussing how to avoid a hot war with the US.

Paying too much attention on the two phrases will exaggerate the competitive sides of the two countries and are not helpful for China-US relations. It will lead people to imagine more difficulties and feel frustrated about the relations.

We should adopt positive narrative about China-US relations and concentrate more on cooperation rather than competition.

It is a good chance for the two countries to strengthen the positive and grand narrative about bilateral relations during the upcoming state visit paid by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the US. A new type of major power relationship in general is a useful guideline and positive narrative for the future development of bilateral ties.

Meanwhile, the two countries should inject more concrete contents into the idea by narrowing divergences and expanding cooperation. China-US relations are the most important and complex bilateral relations in the world. It is impossible for the two countries to shun competition, but strengthening bilateral cooperation still forms the major part of the relations.

China and the US need each other. Although some US scholars and politicians argued that the US government should change its grand strategy toward China, namely balancing China’s rise, the fact is that the US needs China’s cooperation on a bunch of issues ranging from bilateral issues to global governance such as climate change.

Xi’s visit will provide a great opportunity to facilitate cooperation between the two countries. The communication between the two leaders will first of all enhance the strategic mutual trust and ensure the relations on the right track. Numerous highlights might pop up during Xi’s visit.

On cyber security, the two may reach some fundamental consensus like promising not to attack each other’s key infrastructure, regulating their own actions and forming basic norms.

On economic cooperation, as the top two economies in the world, the countries should express their willingness to lead the global economic development.

On climate change, the countries may carry on the momentum and release another joint announcement to accumulate more dynamism for the upcoming Paris Climate Conference.

In addition, Xi might share his experience of China’s development path to disperse US misunderstandings about China’s domestic policies and interact with the US public, offering a solid foundation of the bilateral relations.

By Sun Chenghao Source:Global Times

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.


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