Bernama | July 31, 2007
FTA With Australia Not Moving As Fast It Should Be, Says Rafidah
SYDNEY, July 31 (Bernama) — The conclusion of negotiations for the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) may take longer than expected as Malaysia cannot agree to Australia’s requests which go beyond the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agenda, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz said Monday.
"They are making requests which in WTO, not only Malaysia but several other countries are not willing to look at this point of time," she said at a business seminar held here in conjunction with a week-long Malaysian trade and investment mission to Sydney, Brisbane and Perth which started Sunday.
The minister is leading the mission whose members include include Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, Malaysian Industrial Development Authority director-general Datuk R. Karunakaran, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation chief executive officer Datuk Noharuddin Nordin, government officials and representatives from the private sector.
"My mandate to my negotiating team is no go. We want to have an FTA that really benefits both parties, not only about anyone asking for more than what we can offer," Rafidah said.
"We need to be pragmatic about this and don’t be idealistic," she said during a question-and-answer session after delivering her keynote address.
Rafidah disclosed that among issues dragging the FTA talks were Australia’s request for transparency in government procurement and differences in the modalities of the approach preferred by the two parties.
"They want the negative list, we want the positive list. The positive list means we do 20 now and as we go on we add on. Australia says whatever is not there is in. That’s very dangerous for us. We can’t tell what’s in the future," she said.
FTA negotiations between the two countries started in July 2005.
On another note, Rafidah said the meeting of the Asean-Mekong Basin Development Cooperation Council to be held during the Asean Economic Ministers Meeting in Manila end of next month will review the 5,000-kilometre regional rail link proposed between Singapore and Kunming in southern China.
The minister said while Malaysia had completed its technical study on the project, the financing committee chaired by Thailand had never met.
"This committee never sat down to do anything. Now we are trying to get the Asian Development Bank, Japan and China to come onboard," she said in reference to financing for the project which financial analysts have estimated at US$15 billion.
Rafidah said she had promoted the idea that countries that will benefit greatly from the project such as Laos and Cambodia should consider giving the rail developers land for development on a quid pro quo basis.
Mooted in 1995 at the Fifth Asean Summit in Bangkok, the rail link will provide greater land access between the economies in South-East Asia and China.
Asked about the possibility of former Deputy Prime Mnister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim staging a strong comeback in the next general election, Rafidah said the three recent by-elections, especially the last one in Ijok, had shown that his popularity was waning.
"He was there supporting his candidate full scale. The Ijok by-election was the litmus test. His treasurer contested and the candidate lost miserably," she said.
According to her, this reflected that people are tired of opposition figures who are malicious, non-constructive, having their own personal agenda and opportunistic.