Miti to make decision on Malaysia-US FTA talks soon

Business Times, Malaysia

Miti to make decision on Malaysia-US FTA talks soon

By Rupa Damodaran

19 November 2009

Trade Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed hopes to find out in a few weeks if the country should still pursue a free trade area deal with the US, its biggest trading partner, or join a regional pact instead.

The US has indicated its preference to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an existing deal that consists of Singapore, New Zealand, Brunei and Chile.

US chief negotiator Barbara Weisel met Ministry of International Trade and Industry secretary-general Tan Sri Rahman Mamat in Kuala Lumpur yesterday and conveyed the news.

"We need to know if we should embrace the TPP or abandon the bilateral FTA with the US," Mustapa said at a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Miti, he added, will conduct its own study on the TPP, which may be joined by Australia, Peru, Vietnam and the US.

Mustapa plans to brief the cabinet in next few weeks and get a mandate on whether Malaysia should continue to pursue the bilateral partnership or the TPP.

The Malaysia-US FTA talks which commenced in 2006, saw eight rounds of discussions but got stuck on issues like government preference for Bumiputera businesses.

Malaysia has signed three bilateral trade agreements so far, namely with Japan, Pakistan and New Zealand. The government is now in talks with India, Chile and Australia.

Earlier, Mustapa said the Asean-6, a group that consists of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Brunei, will be a complete free trade area when duties on most products are eliminated.

Come January 1 2010, Malaysia has committed to scrapping import duties on 1,943 products, reduce import duties to 5 per cent for tropical fruits, tobacco and tobacco products, and reduce import duties for rice to 20 per cent.

Under the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) Scheme for Afta (Asean Free Trade Area), he said 2,524 companies have applied for 103,745 COOs (Certificates of Origin) in the first nine months of 2009 totalling RM12.53 billion.

Companies with a COO will qualify for the lower or zero duties under Afta.

Also, come January 1 2010, 90 per cent of the products traded under the Asean-China and Asean-Korea FTAs will be duty free, he added.

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