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Malaysia to protect sovereign rights in any FTA talks

Business Times (Malaysia)

Malaysia to protect sovereign rights in any FTA talks

By Rupa Damodaran

July 15 2006

THE US is more concerned about transparency in the awarding of international contracts in Malaysia than the Government’s procurement policy, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz said.

At a briefing to Barisan Nasional ministers of Parliament (MPs) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Rafidah said the US did not question whether the contracts were awarded to Bumiputeras or a Malaysian company as long they were transparent through the processes of notice, tender and bidding.

During the three-hour meeting, the minister briefed the MPs and took questions on the status of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks, Asean Free Trade Area (Afta) and free trade agreements (FTAs).

One of the issues raised by the MPs was the protection of Malaysia’s sovereign rights under the FTAs.

Rafidah said the presence of Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail at the recent Malaysia-US FTA preparatory talks reflects how serious the Government is about ensuring that all legal aspects are carefully looked at.

The first round of negotiations between the US and Malaysia was held in Penang last month.

The second round of the Malaysia-US FTA talks, to be held in Seattle next week, will see more than 80 members in the Malaysian delegation, consisting of representatives from the ministries as well as the private sector.

It will be led by the secretary-general of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan, and Abdul Gani.

Rafidah said it is beneficial to proceed with bilateral FTAs for market access as the multilateral trade framework provided for by the 149-member WTO is slow and requires 100 per cent consensus.

It has been estimated that 300 FTAs will be signed by WTO member economies this year, she added.

Malaysia has just concluded an FTA with Japan and is currently negotiating with Pakistan, the US and Australia.

It is also looking at possibilities of negotiating FTAs with India and Chile.

Rafidah reiterated that there is no time frame for concluding the FTA talks and that Malaysia will not sign any agreement that is to its disadvantage.

Malaysia suspended FTA talks with New Zealand recently because it did not agree with that country’s requests in the areas of government procurement, environment, manpower and competition policy, she said.

Asean’s FTA talks with India have also been suspended over the latter’s request for special treatment with regard to palm oil.

 source: Business Times