KUALA LUMPUR: Preliminary moves for a Malaysia-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) will begin soon.
Officials from both sides have set next March as the deadline for completion of initial studies.
This was decided at the 11th Malaysia-Australia Joint Trade Committee meeting attended by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz in Melbourne on Monday.
“If both sides agree, we will move towards negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement. The decision to conduct the study is a clear sign of the depth and maturity of our bilateral ties,” said Australian High Commissioner James Wise, who returned here on Thursday.
Australia recently concluded FTAs with Singapore, Thailand and the United States, and is undertaking a similar study with China.
“It is important to ensure that Malaysia-Australia commercial relations are not left behind by, or even damaged by, these FTAs,” Wise said.
“Studies on the likely costs and benefits of a Malaysia-Australia free trade agreement are the logical way to determine the best way forward for our commercial relations.”
To coincide with the trade meeting, the ministry, Mida and the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) organised seminars in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Malaysia remains a key trading partner for Australia within Asean. Total bilateral trade was RM23.47bil for 2001-02 and RM23.41bil for 2002-03.
Wise said Rafidah and Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile agreed at the meeting to cooperate in fields such as construction, franchising, management of coal resources and technologies, the regulatory system for medical devices, commercialisation of R&D, investment promotion and agribusiness.
“They also agreed to build on earlier efforts on the processing and marketing of halal products and liberalisation of legal services,” he added.