Agence France-Presse | March 27, 2008
M’sia says no rush to forge FTA with US
KUALA LUMPUR — MLAAYSIA’S new trade minister said on Thursday there was no rush to sign a free-trade deal which the United States hopes could be struck before President George W. Bush leaves office this year.
Muhyiddin Yassin, who replaced veteran trade minister Rafidah Aziz after she was dumped from the cabinet earlier this month, said there were outstanding issues to be resolved by both sides.
’Of course the US might want to pursue and see how best we can reconcile, but there are certain things which we have to work out,’ he said according to the official Bernama news agency.
The government was not in a hurry to seal the agreement, and ’we will take our time’, he said, adding that the priority was to ensure the pact gave long-term benefits to the government and the business community.
Ms Rafidah had also indicated an arm’s-length attitude to the negotiations, saying that Malaysia would not sacrifice its national interests in order to forge a deal with its biggest trading partner.
Negotiations resumed in January after a year-long pause in the talks which became bogged down over a number of issues, including Malaysia’s affirmative action policies for its majority ethnic Malays.
Washington had been racing to conclude the agreement before June last year when Mr Bush lost his Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) which enabled him to ’fast-track’ trade deals through Congress.
It now faces a new deadline, to strike an agreement before Mr Bush leaves office, failing which the FTA with Malaysia will likely be shelved, US assistant trade representative Barbara Weisel has said.
Mr Weisel said in January that US negotiators were hopeful the renewed talks, which are focusing on a narrow range of issues, could propel the process to a successful conclusion.