Malaysia may join Asia-Pacific trade talks to boost ties with US

Associated Press | March 2, 2010

Malaysia may join Asia-Pacific trade talks to boost ties with US

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia may join negotiations for an Asia-Pacific trade agreement to boost ties with the United States amid pessimism over the fate of global trade talks, a top official said Tuesday.

Malaysia is mulling whether to participate in the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership supported by Washington, Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said.

In determining whether to do so, Mohamed said there was "no hope" key negotiations aimed at world trade liberalization will conclude by end of the year. Meanwhile, the U.S. has said it would prefer to engage in talks on a regional basis rather than bilaterally.

"The U.S. bilateral (free-trade) talk is not on, so we have to explore other alternatives. It is for that reason we are keen to come on board (the TPP) subject to local consultations," he told reporters.

The global trade talks, dubbed the Doha round after the Qatari capital where they launched in 2001, were designed to add billions of dollars to the world economy and lift millions of people worldwide out of poverty, but have been mired in disagreement. The negotiation is already six years behind schedule.

President Barack Obama recently said the U.S. would participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership joining Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei. Australia, Peru and Vietnam have also expressed interest; negotiators will meet March 15 in Melbourne, Australia.

The longer-term goal is to expand the TPP to an agreement encompassing all Pacific Rim members from U.S. to Russia, but analysts said it is premature for progress on a broader pact.

Despite calls for free trade, the U.S. Congress has balked at passing trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama negotiated under former President George W. Bush.

Mustapa said Malaysia plans to pursue new bilateral free trade agreements with the European Union, Gulf countries and Turkey.

Malaysia has free trade agreements with Japan, Pakistan and New Zealand. It is currently negotiating similar pacts with Chile, Australia and India, he added.

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source: AP