‘MALAYSIA MUST NOT QUIT’

De­spite with­drawal of US, there is still much to be gained from pact, says min­istry’s ex-top of­fi­cial

New Straits Times - - News -

VEENA BABULAL KUALA LUMPUR news@nst.com.my

MALAYSIA should not drop out of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) de­spite the with­drawal of the United States from the agree­ment. For­mer in­ter­na­tional trade and in­dus­try min­istry sec­re­tary-general Tan Sri Dr Re­becca Fa­tima Sta Maria said Malaysia had built “so much good­will” with other coun­tries in the due course of ne­go­ti­a­tions for TPP.

“Why waste the mo­men­tum? There are three other coun­tries (who are in the ne­go­ti­a­tions) with which we don’t have Free Trade Agree­ments — Canada, Mex­ico and Peru. Let’s har­ness that.

“I think the Mex­i­can mar­ket is very, very, very at­trac­tive. You won’t want to dis­miss that so eas­ily. We should build on it as well,” she said.

Sta Maria was speak­ing to the New Straits Times af­ter tak­ing part in the 31st Asia-Pa­cific Roundtable here yes­ter­day as a pan­elist for a ses­sion ti­tled “Wither Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion in the Asia Pa­cific: More In­gre­di­ents for the Spaghetti Bowl?”

She said there was still much value to be gained from the pact, adding that a lot of re­sources and time had been in­vested in the process by all coun­tries in­volved.

“Go­ing around and meet­ing each other whether it was in Asean meet­ings or APEC meet­ings... the min­is­ters, lead­ers and of­fi­cials met ev­ery op­por­tu­nity they had. At the end, the pack­age was mean­ing­ful for ev­ery coun­try (in­volved) and the out­come would have ben­e­fited all,” said Sta Maria, who is now se­nior pol­icy fel­low at the Eco­nomic Re­search In­sti­tute for Asean and East Asia.

She called for all the coun­tries in­volved to now forge ahead us­ing the Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) as a plat­form.

This, she said, could be done by, among oth­ers, tweak­ing the pact’s clauses and tak­ing out por­tions re­lated to the US.

Sta Maria, how­ever, said the role of the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) be­tween Asean and its six dia­logue part­ners should not be dis­counted.

“RCEP is not get­ting the kind of at­ten­tion that TPPA had be­cause it was shrouded in controversy as peo­ple saw it as the US push­ing its agenda. But RCEP (is at an ad­van­tage) as it is not viewed as a hege­monic drive by a dom­i­nant coun­try or lead­er­ship,” she said, adding that she hoped the part­ner­ship would make more head­way and quicker progress.

Sta Maria also called on Asean to take a page from the US on how it cam­paigned for TPP by hold­ing prompt, con­sis­tent, co­or­di­nated, deep and struc­tured en­gage­ment with all stake­hold­ers.

In her ses­sion ear­lier, she said Asean na­tions were “of­ten too po­lite and fo­cused on speak­ing with one voice”, of­ten lead­ing to de­lays and un­der-per­form­ing eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion.

On Mon­day, In­ter­na­tional Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Mustapa Mo­hamed had said he had not ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity of Malaysia’s con­tin­ued in­volve­ment in the TPP.

He had said it was im­por­tant to con­sider whether Malaysia would miss out on eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties if it sat out while the 10 other coun­tries went ahead with the agree­ment.

Mustapa had said that if the TPP was go­ing to pro­ceed with­out US par­tic­i­pa­tion, Malaysia needed to en­sure that its in­ter­ests re­mained pro­tected and the ben­e­fits de­rived from it still out­weighed the costs.

PIC BY MUHD ZAABA ZAKERIA

(From left) Peter­son In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Eco­nomics se­nior fel­low Jef­frey Schott, Sin­ga­pore In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs se­nior chair­man As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Si­mon Tay, Eco­nomic Re­search In­sti­tute for Asean and East Asia se­nior pol­icy fel­low Tan Sri Dr Re­becca Fa­tima Sta Maria and Asian Trade Cen­tre ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Dr Deb­o­rah K. Elms at the 31st Asia-Pa­cific Roundtable at Hil­ton Ho­tel in Kuala Lumpur yes­ter­day.

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