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Wednesday February 7, 2007

Malaysia-US free trade agreement talks off to a good start


KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysia-US free trade agreement (FTA) talks are proceeding smoothly with the parties discussing issues “on schedule”. 

A source familiar with the talks told reporters yesterday that the discussions had the usual challenges encountered in trade talks but were proceeding like any other trade negotiation. 

It is learnt that International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz is being given daily updates on the progress of the meetings, which US Congressman Tom Lantos had threatened to call off last week.  

The fifth round of the FTA talks between the two countries began Monday with more than 150 officers meeting at the Karambunai Resort, located some 30km northeast from here. 

Issues being discussed at the five-day meeting include investment, trade capacity building, financial services, labour, transparency and agriculture. 

The Malaysian delegation is led by International Trade and Industry Ministry secretary-general Datuk Abdul Rahman Mamat while Assistant US Trade representative Barbara Weisel is leading the US delegation.  

The negotiations started last June and the parties have met four times - in Penang, Washington, Kuala Lumpur and last month in San Francisco. The talks resumed despite calls by Lantos to suspend the negotiations unless Kuala Lumpur quit a US$16bil (RM56bil) deal with Iran. 

The agreement involved a Malaysian company, SKS Ventures Sdn Bhd and the state-owned National Iran Oil Co. The Malaysian government is not involved in the deal.  

Last Friday, Malaysia had stated that said it was ready to suspend the talks, stating that “the FTA negotiations cannot be held hostage to any political demand and cannot be conducted under such threats.” 

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