8 May 2010: The United States has stated that it would welcome Malaysia to the ongoing TPP negotiations, following talks between US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and his Malaysian counterpart. Malaysia has recently been considering a series of economic 'modernisation' and liberalisation initiatives to make the country a more appealing free trade partner and to avoid some of the issues which stalled bilateral negotiations between the US and Malaysia.
Kirk also acknowledged that there was some resistance from US politicians to getting any new free trade deal through the hurdle of a vote in Congress, while urging that the underlying 'cynicism' creeping into domestic US discourse around free trade be addressed. The article follows below.
US keen for Malaysia to join trade pact
8 May 2010| (AFP)
WASHINGTON — The United States said Thursday it was keen for Malaysia
to enter negotiations on a trans-Pacific trade deal after the two
countries shelved talks on a bilateral agreement.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk held talks this week with Malaysian
Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed, who traveled with colleagues from
Brunei, Indonesia and Laos to Seattle to promote business opportunities
across the Pacific.
Mustapa indicated that Malaysia was interested in exploring the
Trans-Pacific Partnership, a once-obscure pact revived by President
Barack Obama as other trade deals languish before the US Congress.
"It's not my place to telegraph what Malaysia would do, but obviously
that is an economy that we are very interested in having join," Kirk
told a forum in Washington of the East-West Center.
"We've been very honest in our outreach to them that we think that
having them participate in this process makes a more sellable case to
the American public than a stand-alone free trade agreement," Kirk
US-Malaysia trade talks had dragged on for eight rounds, bogged down in
sensitive areas including Malaysia's system of affirmative action for
Muslim Malays who dominate the multi-racial population.
The countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks are
Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United
States and Vietnam.
Lawmakers from Obama's Democratic Party have been critical of free
trade pacts, fearing that they would hurt US workers.
The previous administration of George W. Bush completed negotiations
with South Korea on a free trade pact, but the Congress has yet to act
on it with Washington seeking more concessions for US automakers.
Congress has also held up trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.
Obama has promised to South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to work to
move forward the free-trade agreement, which Seoul sees as crucial to
improving the competitiveness of a nation situated between giants China
But Obama and his congressional allies have set no deadline and the
European Union has since signed its own free trade pact with South
Kirk acknowledged that the Obama administration faced political hurdles
to bringing any of the free trade pacts to a vote.
"More important than getting any one deal done is being honest and
addressing the underlying, fundamental cynicism that is beginning to
creep in" about free trade, Kirk said.
"Too many Americans believe that we've gotten cheap T-shirts and
cheaper consumer electronics but that we've shipped all our jobs
overseas," he said.
Arguing that trade benefits the US economy overall, he said: "Those of
us who believe in trade owe it to ourselves to honestly sit down and
listen" to workers' concerns.
He acknowledged, however, that "the clock is ticking."
"I want to get this done sooner than later," he said of the South Korea
free trade pact. "I don't want to give the European Union or any other
group of businesses any more headstart on America."