Arab News | 5 October 2023
Malaysian PM in Abu Dhabi for talks on free trade pact
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim arrived in the UAE on Thursday for a two-day state visit aimed at striking a free trade deal.
Negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement between the two countries began in May led by Malaysian Trade Minister Tengku Zafrul and UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmad Al-Zeyoudi.
In June, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Zayed Al-Nahyan was in Kuala Lumpur for a meeting with Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah. The prime minister and top members of his cabinet were also present.
Anwar was received on his arrival in the UAE by President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
“The two sides reviewed existing cooperation … and discussed ways to build on these ties, especially in the areas of the economy, trade and investment, renewable energy, food security and others that serve both nations’ vision for a sustainable and prosperous future,” the Emirati state news agency WAM reported.
“They emphasized their shared interest in promoting cooperation toward establishing a comprehensive economic partnership … in the near future.”
Malaysia has been seeking to attract more foreign investors through market-friendly reforms under Anwar, who came to power in November after a period of political instability that saw the country go through three prime ministers between 2018 and 2022.
Foreign investment in Malaysia has been static for many years, with the country losing out to neighboring Indonesia in the race to attract capital.
“From Malaysia’s point of view, they are obviously hoping for investment … Malaysia is competing with Indonesia,” Dr. James Dorsey, adjunct senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Arab News.
A free trade agreement between UAE and Indonesia that went into force last month is expected to increase annual two-way trade to $10 billion within five years by removing trade barriers.
“I think there is a growing interest in Southeast Asia … all states are diversifying their relationships and in fact most important economic relationships we don’t have today are in Asia, rather than with Europe or the United States,” Dorsey said.
The UAE is Malaysia’s largest trading partner among west Asian countries, with two-way trade rising to $8.8 billion in 2022 from $5.4 billion a year earlier.
Researcher Rizwan Togoo told Arab News that Anwar’s visit to the UAE was likely to position Malaysia as a key player in relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which could open opportunities for cooperation in sectors beyond trade, such as research, tourism and education.
“Given the cultural and religious ties between Malaysia and GCC member states, this visit signifies Malaysia’s potential role as a bridge between ASEAN and the GCC,” he said, adding that the visit was aimed at reclaiming Malaysia’s position as a “premier investment destination within the region.”