Agence France Presse
M’sia to assess free trade deal prospects with Australia
Jul 26, 2004
SYDNEY: Australia and Malaysia will examine the possibility of a free trade agreement today at a meeting of senior government officials, Trade Minister Mark Vaile’s office said.
Vaile will meet his Malaysian counterpart Rafidah Aziz in Melbourne at the 11th meeting of the Australia-Malaysia joint trade committee.
A spokesman for Vaile said Malaysian officials had floated the possibility of a free trade deal over the past 18 months and the Melbourne meeting was an opportunity to assess whether to begin formal negotiations.
"What we’ll be able to do is ascertain at a ministerial level how interested both parties are in pursuing the idea," he told AFP Sunday.
Australia has signed free trade agreements with Singapore and Thailand in the past 18 months and Vaile’s office said Canberra had shown it was serious about its trade relations with Southeast Asia.
SEA free trade zone?
Vaile’s spokesman said the ministers would also discuss an invitation by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for Australia and New Zealand to begin talks on creating a free trade zone covering the region.
The 10-nation grouping has invited Australia and New Zealand to attend its summit in Laos in November, where it is expected to endorse the idea of including the two nations in a regional free trade area.
For decades, Australian overtures to Asean were rebuffed by the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who had a prickly relationship with Canberra.
Malaysia is Australia’s 11th most important export market, accounting for sales of more than RM5.5 billion a year.
The joint trade committee meets irregularly to discuss ways of improving trade and investment cooperation between the two countries. It last met in July 2002.