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May 27, 2008

No compromise on agri sector in trade talks with US

Malaysia's International trade minister on Monday said his country would not compromise on its sensitive agricultural sector in the next round of free trade negotiations with the United States, reported AFP.

Last week, Muhyiddin Yassin urged the US to lower its expectations as the two countries prepare to resume talks towards a free trade agreement in July.

He said the country would not compromise on a list of issues, including affirmative action policies for the nation's majority ethnic Malays.

"The agriculture sector is important to the country and we will not compromise if we feel that any agreement is likely to negatively affect farmers," he was quoted as telling Parliament by state news agency Bernama.

"This is the reason why we did not agree to include the planting of padi (for example) in the negotiations," he added.

"We are very clear in this stand and will not compromise to such an extent that we sacrifice our sovereignty, our national interests must be defended."

The negotiations, which began in March 2006, reached an impasse at the seventh round held in Kuala Lumpur in January, after a year-long pause.

The United States, which is Malaysia's biggest trading partner, hopes a deal could be struck before President George W. Bush leaves office at the end of the year.

The US Free trade talks in the country have come under fire from various groups including those within the ruling party, who believe an agreement would leave Malaysia in a unfavourable trading position.

Malaysia's list of sensitive areas - including environmental protection and the practice of giving Malay companies a leg-up in lucrative government contracts - have bogged down the protracted talks.

US assistant trade representative Barbara Weisel has warned that the FTA could be shelved if an agreement is not reached before the end of Bush's term in January 2009.

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