Early harvest seen for M’sia-Japan free trade

  • Business
  • Tuesday, 11 Feb 2003

JAPAN-BOUND Malaysian products can enjoy tariff cuts or waivers as early as 2004 if Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur agree to an “early harvest” approach in their proposed bilateral free trade area (BFTA), said International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz. 

“If we work fast enough, it could be within one year to one year–plus, which is possible if we have progressive liberalisation,” she told Bernama in an interview in Kuala Lumpur. 

Under an early harvest arrangement, the two trading partners could tick off from the total sectors identified for the BFTA some products that present the least cost for immediate market liberalisation within a year or so. 

“They may demand 10 items, but we say (let’s have) three first; or we may demand 10 items, and they say (let’s have) three first or four first,” Rafidah explained. 

Kuala Lumpur, she said, believed that a phased-in approach was more viable than outright implementation of the BFTA. 

However, it was also up to Tokyo to consider which was better, she added. 

The Malaysia-Japan BFTA was announced in December last year during Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to that country. 

The BFTA forms part of a very comprehensive proposal called the Close Economic Partnership (CEP) framework, which also encompasses aspects of co-operation covering, among others, education, culture, information technology and agriculture. 

Rafidah said the ministry had identified the sectors that Kuala Lumpur could open up for Japanese products and the sectors which Tokyo could open up for Malaysia-made products. She will be flying to Japan this week to inform her counterpart there of the sectors that Malaysia is ready to open up. 

“At the moment, I am not able to divulge these sectors because we have to discuss them with Japan,” she said. 

Rafidah said the Japanese government would need to consult its domestic industries and the country’s legislative assembly, or Diet, regarding the matter. 

She also said Malaysia’s decision to have a BFTA with Japan was not simply because it was the “fashion” to do so. 

Malaysia chose to have BFTAs because, as a trading nation and an open economy, it must exploit every opportunity available to enhance its economic growth from the investment and trade perspective. 

“So if we have a bilateral arrangement with countries like Japan, and the areas on which we focus will really benefit us as well as Japan, why not? We will choose which is the most viable FTA that we can have. After Japan, there may be other countries that we might want to pursue BFTAs with,” Rafidah said. – Bernama  

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