Dr M: Intra-Asean trade small, time to boost commerce

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad while attending the 34th Asean Summit (Plenary) at The Athenee Hotel in Bangkok June 22, 2019. — Bernama pic
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad while attending the 34th Asean Summit (Plenary) at The Athenee Hotel in Bangkok June 22, 2019. — Bernama pic

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BANGKOK, June 23 — Sluggish intra-Asean trade was one of the main concerns raised during the 34th Asean Summit, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.

“Many things emerged from the discussions with Asean leaders. Among the areas concerned is that trade within Asean is very small.

“Only 25 per cent of total trades comes from Asean... other groupings like the European Union and North America, trade with them are very big... 40 to 50 per cent,” he highlighted during a press conference with Malaysian media today before he travels back home.

Dr Mahathir said there is an urgent need for Asean to come up with special efforts to increase trade within the region.

“We have some ideas on how to do that. Among the ideas is tourism, for example, can be stimulated by making things simple when it comes to procedures, processes, legal requirements in order to increase trade within Asean countries,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said another way is by looking at products that Asean countries can import within the group instead of outside the region.

“These are things that we are probably producing... like import substitute... this is one way for countries to introduce their industry.

“Just like Malaysia, when it comes to imported cars... we do the assembly in Malaysia and it became a big business. Subsequently, we want to substitute it with our own car.

“I’m talking about the idea of Asean cars. We won’t stop importing cars but Asean should have a car of its own,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir described his four-day working visit to Thailand as similar to running a marathon.

“This has been a marathon. One meeting after another. I’m breathless but we achieved quite a lot of things. There were meetings with parliamentarians, youths and the business community.

“The interfaith with youths, they presented their views on their needs and what needs to be done, we have taken note of their request.”

Dr Mahathir said this morning, he attended the Asean leader’s retreat where everybody managed to give their views.

“We heard about the performance of Asean and we are by large satisfied.

“Many people said Asean is dormant but no, a lot of things have been done. We plan to improve further, we are facilitating communications so that people can do business much more easily,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said Asean welcomes foreign direct investments (FDI) and that a lot of projects have been identified and carried out in each country.

He said many projects under Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) and sub-regional cooperation within Asean known as the East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) have been completed.

“I think the dedication towards Asean is very real. Lots of people think it’s dormant, but by comparisons to other regional grouping, Asean has been working together well and I feel there is potential,” he added.

Dr Mahathir arrived on Thursday for the summit accompanied by his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Ignatius Darell Leiking and Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, as well as officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, Wisma Putra, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and Ministry of Economic Affairs.

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