KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has indicated that Malaysia is willing to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement without India for the time being.
Speaking to US-based news outfit CNBC on the sidelines of the 34th Asean Summit in Bangkok, the prime minister acknowledged the hurdles in reaching a deal among the 16 countries for the Asia-Pacific deal.
“I think we will work towards it. It’s quite difficult because we are competing economies... we’re competing with each other and from there, to go on to work together requires some radical change in our mindset. That will take time,” he was quoted as saying.
Dr Mahathir said RCEP participants would have to consider which framework works best: China’s proposed 13-nation deal or the original one involving all 16 countries.
China had reportedly grown impatient with the slow pace to conclude the deal, and is proposing a version without three other economies.
“But I think I would prefer 13... for the time being,” he reportedly said, adding that he was open to having India, Australia and New Zealand joining the pact in the future.
RCEP involves 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific consisting of 10 South-east Asian nations and six of their large trading partners: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Negotiations have been going on since 2013 and one of its sore points being India reluctance to open up its markets.
If the agreement is finalised, the 16 countries would form a major trading bloc that covers around one-third of the world’s gross domestic product.