KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 ― Malaysia will not be pressured into ratifying an Asia-Pacific trade deal that the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration had ratified, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Darell Leiking said.
In an interview with South China Morning Post (SCMP) in Hong Kong, Leiking said Malaysia may instead hold out for bilateral tariff pacts, ahead of a ministerial meeting between the 11 trade ministers of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) this weekend.
He said there was much for Malaysia to deliberate before the Malaysian government fully moved ahead with participating in the CPTPP ― which replaced the TPP after the United States pulled out ― and hinted that member states were persuading Malaysia to join it.
“There’s nothing really to stop Malaysia.
“Rather, this CPTPP was signed before we took over the government and our eight-month-old government [is doing its] own analysis on what was decided before we became government, and how we can fit it into the current policy that we have,” he said.
Vietnam became the seventh country to ratify the pact, leaving Brunei, Malaysia, Chile and Peru yet to complete the ratification process even though they have signed it.
The 11 countries ― four from South-east Asia ― that signed the CPTPP make up a market with a GDP of US$10 trillion (RM41.1 trillion) and a population of 500 million people. They are New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
SCMP added that the Malaysian government led by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been criticised by free trade proponents for dragging its feet over ratifying the multilateral deal ― especially after it came into effect for six of the 11 countries on December 30.
Leiking said critics attacking the government “left, right and centre” over the matter should remember that Malaysia was a federation that needed the assent of its three constituent territories (Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak) before laws were amended to ratify the CPTPP.
“In order for you to have the legal standing to ratify, you would have first amended all the laws of your country to fit with the agreement that you have entered in the CPTPP and there are 19 national level laws needed to be amended along with other regulations,” he said.
He pointed out that critics who were pressuring Malaysia may not be looking at the country’s circumstances accurately and questioned why similar questions were not posed to Brunei, another CPTPP holdout.
Asked if Malaysia was reticent to ratify the CPTPP because of concerns that it must then unwind its decades-old pro-Bumiputera policy, Leiking said this was not the case as the previous administration had successfully negotiated a “carve out” for Malaysia on the matter.
“There could be a carve out here, there could be an exemption there, but there could be another one just supersedes the exemption. It has happened.
“So while we are happy with most of the terms, there are terms that we have to relook,” he said.