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NEWS UPDATES 24 December 2009

US awaits Malaysia’s decision on Trans-Pacific Partnership

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The US is awaiting Malaysia's decision on the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP), reported national news agency Bernama.

The agency quoted James R Keith, US Ambassador to Malaysia, as saying that Malayia has to carefully consider its decision whether to join the free trade alliance.

TPP is proposed to be expanded from the original members, Brunei, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand to include the US, Australia, Peru and Vietnam.

Keith said once the eight countries are ready to start discussions, it would still be at a preliminary stage, and Malaysia has to decide if it was the right time to join in. "The decision is an important undertaking by Malaysia," he added.

Asked if Malaysia had given any indication on engaging in the TPP, Keith said: "No. However, there were some early comments from the Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed."

US President Barrack Obama announced in Singapore on November 14 that the US would engage with the TPP countries, with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that had a broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.

While negotiations will be of wide interest as a route to a more open trade relationship with the US, its greatest potential from a larger perspective is that of a pathfinder for greater regional economic integration.

The TPP, previously known as "P4", was between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. It was signed in 2005. The first round of negotiations to expand the TPP was originally scheduled in March.

However, in February, the US requested to delay the talks to allow time for a review of its trade policy and priorities. The Nov 14 announcement signalled that the US is now ready to proceed with negotiations. The first round of talks is expected to take place in March.

"As you may know, we are engaging with the TPP partners and are moving in that direction. It won't be long perhaps you hear some announcement. "We have to complete our negotiations and consultations with stakeholders at home and not just inform Congress," he said.

Stating that the TPP could become a model for regional trade cooperation, Keith also said the US, would invest heavily in it. "Therefore, I think it is important for Malaysia to think about it. It is also up to Malaysia on whether it intends to be part of this ambitious group.

"This will be a very, high quality effort, ultimately aimed at expanding trade volume and increasing efficiency of the global system," he said.

Keith said the US was turning to the region in terms of trade because "with the expansion of bilateral agreements, we found that it may increase trade between two countries but inhibit it overall, globally and regionally.

"We are all committed to the Doha round to improve global trade slowly on an overall basis. This is why we are moving in the direction of regional bilateral agreements," he said.

He said the TPP includes the kind of economic rehabilitation talked about in the free trade agreement negotiation with Malaysia.

He said the FTA discussions, wherever it led, would have helped Malaysia determine where it should draw the line.

Keith said Malaysia is the US' 18th largest market and "an important contributor", to its economy.

The balance of trade is in Malaysia's favour, against the total value of $45 billion. The US is the largest investor in Malaysia at present.


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