US hopes to conclude FTA with Malaysia before August
The United States Government is hoping to conclude the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Malaysia before August, ahead of the formation of the new US administration to replace Bush’s administration currently at the final year of its term. US Ambassador to Malaysia, James Keith, said yesterday that teams from both countries had completed another round of negotiations two weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur where they achieved some significant improvement but more works needed to be done as the Americans were trying their best to complete negotiation by summer. “We hope that Malaysia, in between its election, will find time to complete the FTA by this summer, if possible,” Keith said at a Malaysia-US Relations Talk at Universiti Malaysia Sabah yesterday. “It is an ambitious goal but we are trying very hard. As a new administration is coming in, new objectives, standards, new agendas would be set in place and we would not know whether the FTA with Malaysia will be higher in priority with the new administration or not. So we hope to complete it now, so as not to let this opportunity slip away.” The negotiation is seeking to bring down barrier, expand trade and increase investment in Malaysia, said Keith, adding the US-Malaysia FTA negotiation, which among others, is also aiming to seek ways to add value to the Malaysian economy could be the answer to the Malaysia’s government which is currently pushing hard in global discussion on trade such as the Doha Round to try to open up and expand the country’s trade potential, he said. US engagement in Asia is very much driven by market oriented engagement, with important market being not only in Asia but also Malaysia. With a population of 300,000, US is an important trading partner as reflected by the large export from Malaysia to US in recent years. In 2006, Malaysia exported USD36.5 billion to US and imported USD12.6 billion worth of goods and services from the country, one of its top trading partners since 1999. “US is likely to be Malaysia’s number one market as Americans are looking forward to buy high- end and value-added, products it produces such as computers,” said Keith who was on his first official visit to Sabah since he was sworn in as the Ambassador to Malaysia on July 24 last year. “Ninety-five percent of computer notebooks produced by American computer giant, Dell Computer, that are sold in America are built in Malaysia.” Expressing his hope for positive outcome on the negotiation, Keith recalled the successful FTA between US, Mexico and Canada and assured that such a free trade understanding helps solve even the most difficult problems facing the trading partners. He also said the agreement had been instrumental, for example, in overcoming immigration and illegal immigrants problems between the three countries. “This, for some people, is controversial. Some people may don’t like it. But in my quarter century experience, I am absolutely convinced and determined that free trade is good for both parties. “Through times it uplifts the standard of living in all three countries, creates jobs and values, opportunities, choices for workers and consumers,” he said. From the American perspective, at least, the economical ties between the two countries is inseparable from every other aspect of their bilateral relationships, said Keith. “If you put it most simply, it would be along the line that we are in it together whether it is economic environmental, or security perspective. The issues cut across all lines now,” he said. Apart from economic perspective, the goal of negotiation is to include environmental objectives, promoting sustainable development, particularly with states in Malaysia as Sabah has a world heritage rainforest right at the centre of its vast and richly diversified terrain and located close to the Sulu-Sulawesi coral triangle, the richest marine ecosystem in the world. Keith at a press conference later, said his visit to Sabah was mostly due to some serious profound interests America has towards East Malaysia. The ambassador said he would like to come back to seek ways to encourage collaboration between Sabah and US to have more local students from the State studying in US universities. He said the US Government would look forward to further strengthen relation with Malaysia regardless of the outcome of the AFT negotiation as there are still many unrealized bilateral potentials between the two countries. The next round of the US-Malaysia AFT talk is not scheduled yet.