Amid US-China trade war, Dr M says imperative that Asean stays open

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad delivers the keynote address at the Asean Business and Investment Summit at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, November 13, 2018. — Picture courtesy of Datuk Seri Azmin Ali
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad delivers the keynote address at the Asean Business and Investment Summit at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, November 13, 2018. — Picture courtesy of Datuk Seri Azmin Ali

SINGAPORE, Nov 13 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad cautioned the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) against withdrawing into protectionism today, even as the trade war between the United States and China rages on.

The prime minister said the trade war would inevitably create a “domino effect” that will spur other developed countries to adopt protective measures against developing nations such as Asean members.

“The rise of trade protectionism, resurgent nationalistic movements and inward-looking policies also seem to be slowly taking place within Asean itself,” he said in a keynote speech at the Asean Business and Investment Summit here.

“However, this is not the time to close our doors by invoking trade protectionism measures, but instead we should be actively engaged in finding amicable solutions and resolving trade issues through multilateral dialogues such as between Asean countries.

“It is now that we must continue to expand our intra-trade and deepen the economic integration within Asean,” he added.

Dr Mahathir had earlier listed down the possible protectionism measures against Asean members: quotas, embargoes, sanctions, levies and other restrictions to regulate markets, consumer protection, and preservation of natural resources as well as discrimination against imports.

He said Malaysia will continue to actively express its concerns to various World Trade Organisation (WTO) bodies over rising trade tensions and risks of escalating protectionism.

He also pledged Putrajaya’s active participation and negotiation so that WTO will remain open and and non-discriminatory for developing and least developed countries (LDC).

“For Malaysia, free trade must also mean fair trade, taking into account the economic levels of all trading partners. This is to ensure that trade relationships would not descend into new forms of colonialism, and to prevent trade being used as weapons to dominate.

“As far as Malaysia is concerned, we would be happy to be involved in a trade pact that provides benefits to the developing countries, especially in integrating companies from developing countries and LDCs into the global supply chain,” he said.

In an interview with US broadcast CNCB here yesterday, Dr Mahathir had predicted that Donald Trump’s removal as US president will end the superpower’s ongoing trade war with China — the spillover effects of which have disrupted the economies of other countries, including Malaysia.

Early this month, The Economist’s Intelligence Unit showed Malaysia as being one of several Asian countries that will strongly benefit in some sectors from the US-China trade war, notable in the information and communications technology and automotive sectors.