Channel News Asia | 12 March 2010
Malaysia studying new regional trade pact with US
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said Thursday that negotiations towards a bilateral trade pact with the United States have been shelved and it is now considering joining a regional deal promoted by the US.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said Washington had "put on the back burner" a bilateral deal negotiated over the past four years and that the focus is now on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
"There is no more discussion on a bilateral FTA with the United States. That is the formal position of the United States," Najib told a press conference.
US-Malaysia trade talks had dragged on for eight rounds, bogged down in sensitive areas including Malaysia’s system of affirmative action for Muslim Malays who dominate the multi-racial population.
In particular, the US had sought access to lucrative Malaysian state contracts that favour Malays and indigenous groups, or "bumiputras" as they are known.
Najib, who is also the finance minister said the US preferred the vehicle of the TPP, a once-obscure pact founded by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.
"They have indicated a preference for the TPP to be considered and the cabinet has given the ministry of international trade and industry (MITI) the green light to look deeply into the initiative," he said.
"If it benefits Malaysia, the cabinet will make the final decision. So a very deep, comprehensive study is being undertaken by MITI now," he said.
Najib said Malaysia will have to make a quick decision, saying that "certain formal events will be unfolding" but did not elaborate on what they were.
The current TPP members will meet this month to discuss expanding membership to four other nations — Australia, Peru, Vietnam and the United States.
The trade bloc was brought to prominence when President Barack Obama last November said the US would "engage" with the grouping to boost trade.
Malaysia’s economy is largely export-driven and the United States is a key customer of Malaysia’s electrical and electronics goods, which account for about 40 per cent of total exports.