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NZ envoy: Halal standards no barrier to Malaysia-NZ free trade talks

The Edge Daily, Malaysia

NZ envoy: Halal standards no barrier to Malaysia-NZ free trade talks

By Kevin Tan

18 June 2007

Malaysia’s halal standards are not an issue hindering the conclusion of a free trade agreement (FTA) between Malaysia and New Zealand, New Zealand High Commissioner to Malaysia David Kersey said.

"Malaysia’s halal standards are not a part of the FTA talks. Halal matters are discussed separately between the two governments and the discussions are making good progress," he said in an email reply to The Edge Financial Daily.

There was a dispute over Malaysia’s decision to ban the meat export of certain New Zealand factories to Malaysia for not complying with its new halal standards not long after the first round of Malaysia-New Zealand FTA talks was launched in March 2005.

New Zealand, which is a major exporter of halal meat to Malaysia, claims it was not formally notified of the new standards and has called for the establishment of a clear and transparent process on halal matters.

Since then, New Zealand diplomats and Malaysian officials have been trying to resolve the issue.

"A team of Malaysian halal inspectors from Jakim (Department of Islamic Development) and DVS (Department of Veterinary Services) undertook an inspection visit to New Zealand from April 19 to 28, 2007 and the results would be known soon," Kersey said.

This followed Malaysian Agriculture Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin’s successful visit to New Zealand from April 16 to 22, he added.

Malaysia and New Zealand had completed six rounds of negotiations and were expected to reach an agreement last year. As of now, the FTA is still not in sight.

Kersey said there was currently no deadline for the Malaysia-New Zealand FTA.

"Our understanding is that Malaysia has had its resources focused on the Malaysia-US FTA," he added.

However, Kersey said New Zealand remained committed to trying to conclude the Malaysia-New Zealand FTA.

"There has been good progress in a number of areas including in goods, economic cooperation, customs, rules of origin, SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) and intellectual property. Areas that need further discussion include services and investment," he said.

Malaysia is New Zealand’s ninth largest trading partner with a total trade of RM4.23 billion in 2006.