In a December 23, 2015 article in the Washington Times, the ban on Christmas in Brunei is outlined. Brunei which is a member of the new TPP deal strictly prohibits anyone from celebrating Christmas under its Sharia law. This has raised eyebrows of many from the western world and some question why Brunei has been included in this new deal. What repercussions could Brunei see from this law? How will this law be enforced? Will the TPP deal be affected in any way?
In an article in The Washington Blade, politicians discuss how the new TPP deal will advance human rights. The deal outlines standards including environmental protection, protecting intellectual property by multinational corporations, and anticorruption laws. Several countries, in particular Brunei, lack legislation that protects certain human rights. Primarily extramarital relationships and homosexuality are punishable under Brunei’s sharia based law. U.S. lawmakers say that the new deal, of which Brunei is a partner, is a first step in improving the human rights situation in Brunei. How will the new work standards help to pave the way for future human rights protection in Brunei? What consequences may Brunei see if it continues under its current legal punishment system? Will some countries still refuse to do trade with Brunei?
A State department official told that TPP will greatly aid the efforts to advance human rights in the Asia-Pacific region. The TPP will contain new labor and environmental standards, protects the IP of multinational companies and prioritizes “transparency and anticorruption” and also contains “enforceable standards” with regards to human rights.
Brunei, a part of TPP, last year began to implement a new legal code based on Sharia law that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning to death. Malaysia also has history of conviction based on freedom of people like former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction under country’s anti sodomy law.
Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work, said that it is inexcusable giving countries access to the markets without ensuring most basic human right protections for the citizens. Davis also argued against TPP because it would increase cost of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV and make less available to these countries. Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT researcher for Human Rights Watch told that there is no evidence that TPP includes any mechanism for promoting LGBTI rights in countries like Malaysia and Brunei. Also, the impacts of increasing the drug prices would affect these people who are poor and HIV-positive.
The Human Rights Campaign and the National Centre for Transgender Equality earlier in 2015 urged the White House to require Brunei to address their Human Rights violations ahead of the TPP negotiations. The State Department has criticised Brunei over its new penal code. Former Deputy Defence Secretary told during his speech that they will continue to take global leadership in defending and promoting human rights of LGBTI persons in TPP partner countries and around the world.
The Diplomat reported in an article (http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/what-the-trans-pacific-partnership-means-for-southeast-asia/) that the smaller countries in the agreement, like Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam will benefit a lot from the TPP. Vietnam’s clothing and apparel industry particularly would get a huge boost by getting access to the US market with no duty to be paid. However, the position of the USA and Japan in this agreement, being the major players, leads to a situation where they could force their hand on the smaller players to give them the luxury they desire.
The fight now gets pulled to between the Human Rights and the Market specialists. What should be the priority this time around? Material benefit that helps boost economies or the ethical one which could be a moral obligation?