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Malaysia said Tuesday it will pursue long-running free trade talks with the United States under the incoming Washington administration, but will not budge on issues affecting sovereignty, reported AFP.

The troubled negotiations began in March 2006 and have dragged on for eight rounds without producing an agreement, despite hopes a deal could be struck before President George W Bush's term in office expires in January.

"The government will keep reminding the United States that Malaysia will not compromise on their requests and unreasonable demands which touch on the country's sovereignty or go against national policies," Deputy Trade Minister Jacob Dungau Sagan told parliament according to the state Bernama news agency.

"We are negotiating with the aim of reaching a deal which would satisfy both sides, and we are prepared to be flexible while taking into account the sensitivities and stand of both countries," he added.

Sagan said that a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the US would give Malaysia access to a wider market for exports including textiles, wood, ceramics and rubber.

He said it would also increase foreign direct investment and improve competition in certain sectors.

The trade talks have become bogged down in sensitive areas including Malaysia's system of affirmative action for Muslim Malays who dominate the multi-racial population.

The US is seeking access to lucrative Malaysian state contracts that favour Malays and indigenous groups, or "bumiputras" as they are known.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said Malaysia is hopeful it will be able to strike a better deal under the administration of president-elect Barack Obama.

"They are willing to engage with ASEAN countries like us to ensure there will be more trade," he said last week, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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