Possible TPP decision in November

PETALING JAYA: International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who said a decision on the way forward for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement might be made in November, said the focus is now on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which could be finalised as early as year-end or early next year.

RCEP is a grouping of 16 countries, with Asean as the main driver. 

To date, Mustapa told a press conference at the 3rd National Economic Summit hosted by the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute yesterday, RCEP countries have met a number of times and the next meeting will be in Hyderabad next week. Some progress towards achieving substantial conclusion has been made and this will be further discussed at the next meeting. 

He said negotiations for RCEP are ongoing and challenges for this pact include the different levels of ambitions among different countries, overall tariff reduction as well as investments and services, as RCEP comprises both developed and less developed countries.

Mustapa added that Asean remains an important grouping and that it has brought benefits to Malaysia and other members, through closer economic, political and socio-cultural integration.  

“Asean is now committed to further liberalise trade and investment environment by addressing non-tariff measures and investment regulations. The Asean high level task force will be meeting in early August to consider Malaysia’s proposal to have greater transparency notification as well as voluntary elimination of non-tariff barriers. Efforts will also be made to have a common definition of non-tariff measures.”

“However, to get to the 60% plus levels seen in the European Union and North American Free Trade Agreement, we will need to address this issue of incompatible economic structures. This includes ongoing tariff and non-tariff barriers, protectionism, disparities in market maturity, weak infrastructure links and inconsistent regulation and policy across countries,” said Mustapa. 

Meanwhile, leaders of the 11 remaining members of the TPP is to meet on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Manila in November. 

“There might be a decision then,” Mustapa said.

The remaining 11 countries met in Hakone, Japan last week to finalise options, which will be considered by the TPP ministers in November. He said Malaysia remains open on its options on TPP. 

“We’ve been participating in meetings. They (TPP countries) are looking at options. No decision yet, officials will propose the way forward,” Mustapa added.

He said the fate of the 12-member TPP was painfully negotiated for more than five years and that his ministry fought for a fair deal that was in the best interest of Malaysia, adhering to the principles of fair and open trade. 

“This experience will strengthen our resolve and we will not become disillusioned in continuing to pursue regional bilateral agreements with our trading partners and multilateral trade pacts. Malaysia continues to be pragmatic in engaging with the world,” said Mustapa.