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US envoy to Malaysia urges conclusion to free-trade pact

Agence France-Presse | 19 September 2007

US envoy to Malaysia urges conclusion to free-trade pact

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The United States’ new ambassador to Malaysia on Wednesday urged both countries to conclude negotiations for a free trade agreement after a missed deadline appears to have slowed the pace of talks.

"It’s very important that we continue our discussions. The FTA is an opportunity for the US and Malaysia to partner," US ambassador-designate James Keith told reporters.

"We all face the same challeges. There’s tremendous competition out there in the global economy and it’s important that we find ways to maximise our strong points," he said.

Washington had been racing to conclude the agreement before President George W. Bush lost his Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to "fast-track" trade deals at the end of June.

The expiry date gave US negotiators up to March 31 to present a deal for a mandatory 90-day review by the US Congress.

Since missing the deadline, US trade officials have said it aims to conclude discussions by July 2008 and that a seventh round of talks could be held by the end of this year.

Earlier negotiations were bogged down over a series of issues, including Malaysia’s affirmative action policies for its majority ethnic Malays.

Malaysia has said it will not sacrifice its national interests in order to forge a deal with the US.

"Clearly, in order for a comprehensive FTA to work, it has to serve Malaysia’s interests and it has to serve America’s," Keith said Wednesday.

He said both governments should find ways to remove barriers that hinder foreign investment.

"We look to compete in an open and free market and we have great confidence that our firms can compete in that kind of setting. The bottom line is to make the economy an attractive one for foreign investment," he said.

The US envoy arrived in Kuala Lumpur Tuesday and expects to present his credentials to Malaysia’s king by next month. He said trade and security issues will be a major focus during his tenure.

"We want these negotiations to continue ... We’re very open to keeping these talks going, it’s an important priority in the relationship," he said.

 source: AFP