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US-M’sia FTA may take some time


February 19, 2005

US-M’sia FTA May Take Some Time

By Salmy Hashim

WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Bernama) — The US-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks are unlikely to begin this year as the two countries have only begun formal discussions on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) earlier this month, a business analyst said here Friday.

"TIFA is like an engagement where the couple get to know each other - to see how they can get along and how problems are solved," Director for Malaysia at the US-Asean Business Council Marc Mealey, told Bernama.

However, the outlook for an FTA looks promising with the first formal official TIFA talks in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 3 described as "very positive" and "very robust and constructive" - covering a wide range of issues including market access, custom procedures and intellectual property rights.

A TIFA ministerial may be possible sometime this year, but that would depend on the schedules of the top officials from the two countries, Mealey said.

Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI) Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz may make another trade trip to the West Coast (California and Washington state) of the US in September, opening speculation of a meeting with her American counterpart.

Meanwhile, US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick has been nominated by President George Bush to become Deputy Secretary of State - leaving his position at the Office of the USTR temporarily vacant.

Rafidah will likely be dealing with a new USTR when the ministerial happens in Washington.

Singapore held TIFA talks in the early 90’s and only implemented the US-Singapore FTA on Jan 1, 2004.

Meanwhile, Thailand signed its TIFA with the US in October 2002 and began its FTA talks after a one-and-a-half year of "engagement" in June 2004, said Mealey.

The two countries are scheduled to hold their third FTA negotiations next month.

"It’s a make or break meeting, their talks have not been going well," he said.

Asked if the FTA had increased US-Singapore trade, Mealey said: "It’s hard to say. Trade and investments have gone up but there is no analysis. And we have only one year of data."

US-Malaysia trade is steadily increasing with two-way trade exceeding US$36 billion in 2004 from about US$33 billion the previous year.