International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed says bilateral trade agreements with trading partners would be ‘more realistic’ option for Malaysia. Pix by MOHAMAD SHAHRIL BADRI SAALI.

KUALA LUMPUR: In the absence of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, bilateral trade agreements with trading partners would be a ‘doable and more realistic’ option for Malaysia.

“A minus one TPP is (one other) option but one which needs massive renegotiation on many issues…it will be tough,” International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said.

“It will be time consuming, and we would have to re-negotiate. We struck a balance during the TPP negotiations and without the United States, which is so big, that is one major motivation removed,” he said on the sidelines of the MITI networking session in conjunction with the Chinese New Year festivities, today.

Canada, Mexico and Peru will be the immediate ones on the cards if the bilateral option is looked at. Trade ministers of the 11 countries will be holding a meeting on the sidelines of the APEC ministers responsible for trade meeting or MRT in Vietnam in May.

“We hope to get some clarity by then,” Mustapa said, adding that a couple of his counterparts will also be meeting him here.

The TPPA was a pact between 12 countries namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, US and Vietnam. It was signed in New Zealand last year and most countries had embarked on the ratification process when the US presidential election took place.

Newly-elected president Donald Trump announced the US’s withdrawal through one of the first few executive orders he signed in the White House.

Chile announced last month that it has invited the trade ministers of the 11 countries to meet in Santiago in March to discuss another regional trade deal. Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei, the four Asean participants of the TPP grouping, will also be holding a meeting on the issue in Manila in April.

As to whether Malaysia is engaging the US in a bilateral trade pact, Mustapa said there has been no formal links yet.

Malaysia and the US were formally engaged in a bilateral FTA from 2006 till 2009 when both parties decided that the TPP would be a better option.

On the potential protectionist trade policies to be rolled out by Trump towards `trade deficit’ partners, the trade minister hoped Malaysia will not be on the list as it would impact the growth potential.

Protectionism measures mean less access to markets for Malaysian products and result in loss of income.

The US is the third largest trading partner as well as for foreign direct investments (FDIs).

“We want their investments to continue to grow in Malaysia.”

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