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US-Malaysia: One hitch may be taken off FTA talks

Business Times | 2009/09/29

One hitch may be taken off FTA talks

By Joseph Sipalan

ONE obstacle in US-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks may be taken off the table following high-powered discussions on government procurement between the two trade partners.

The US Deputy Secretary of State James B Steinberg said he had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at their meeting yesterday morning, outside the scope of the FTA.

The move is seen as a positive sign for the FTA negotiations, which stalled late last year after eight rounds of talks.

Since negotiations started in June 2006, Malaysia has fiercely defended its stand on government procurement and competition policy, two issues that the US had wanted to include in the talks.

Other contentious issues that slowed down the negotiations include intellectual property rights and labour, though Malaysia’s government eventually allowed some leeway for "non-binding" discussions on government procurement in late 2008.

Though Steinberg did not give details on his discussion on government procurement with Najib, who is also the Finance Minister, he repeated that the US remains keen on building stronger economic ties with Malaysia.

He, however, could not give any timeline to resume FTA talks with Malaysia, saying they are still in the midst of completing a review of their overall trade policies including global and bilateral trade agreements.

Steinberg did say that his discussions with Najib broached a broad range if issues, particularly on opportunities to stimulate investment and trade between the two countries.

He said Malaysia is an important trade and strategic partner for the US, with its position as a key player in Asean, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

"Malaysia is an important trade partner. We value Malaysia as an open economy and an important force in the region," he said at a press conference here.

The US is Malaysia’s number one trading partner and in recent years ranked as among the top three foreign investors.

Last year it was the country’s second largest investor with investments totalling RM8.7 billion.

 source: Business Times