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DAP welcomes second Finance
Minister’s assurance that Malaysia will not be bound by United States
Government’s FTA fast-track expiry timetable to conclude negotiations by
early 2007 and calls for Parliamentary Select Committee on FTAs to get
input of MPs and civil society
by Lim Kit Siang
Nor Mohamed gave this assurance during the winding-up on the Finance Ministry in the Ninth Malaysia Plan debate in Parliament this morning, in response to my specific query as to why Malaysia should be pressured to follow the United States’ fast-track expiry time-table to conclude negotiations by early 2007 for the FTA to be signed and sealed before July next year.
In the exchange with Nor Mohamed on FTAs, I had asked why no cost-benefit analysis had been done before Malaysia entered into FTA negotiations with the United States and other countries.
I pointed out that in April last year, when during his visit to Australia, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made the joint announcement with Australian Prime Minister, John Howard that the two countries would begin negotiations for an FTA, the Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile was able to immediately state publicly that Australia’s economy could reap A$1.9 billion from a free trade agreement with Malaysia.
This was what Vaile said on the same day as the joint statement by the two Prime Ministers in April last year: “An FTA with Malaysia will be another significant step in opening access for Australian exporters regionally and will add to the Coalition Government’s proud record of achievement in this area.”
I asked why other governments could make cost-benefit analysis of what they could gain both at the beginning and end of FTA negotiations while this is not the case with Malaysia, as even now, the government has not been able to announce its cost-benefit analysis for the Malaysia-Japan FTA which had been concluded.
In his reply, Nor Mohamed said the Cabinet approval for FTA negotiations with the United States was for the talks to begin and that the Cabinet would scrutinise the outcome of the negotiations to ensure that Malaysia would benefit from the Malaysia-United States FTA and that future generations would not be cursing the FTA.
My rejoinder was that there could not be much public confidence in the wisdom and judgement of the Cabinet after its record involving the country in many disastrous decisions and scandals –including the Agusta-Proton scandal and the recent RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge scandal.
However, I welcome the second assurance given by Nor Mohamed on my proposal for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on FTAs and his commitment to raise the issue in the Cabinet.
This proposal follows admission by the second Finance Minister that the Malaysian negotiation team is overwhelmed by the US negotiating team, who would come to the talks with 200 lawyers.
I hazarded that the Malaysian team might only comprise half-a-dozen officers in the face of such a battalion of US negotiators, with knowledge, experience and expertise stacked in favour of the US.
As Malaysia is outnumbered and overwhelmed in the FTA negotiations with the US, not only in personnel, resources, experience and expertise, especially as FTA cover many important subjects including new and very specialised ones, whether industry, investment, services, agriculture, technology transfer, intellectual property, biotechnology, I suggested the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on FTAs where MPs and the civil society could give their inputs to help the government ensure fair and favourable terms for Malaysia in the FTA.
I will be pursuing this matter with Nor Mohamad in view of his commitment to get Cabinet approval for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on FTAs.
As FTA negotiations with the US will formally begin in Malaysia in June, such a FTAs Parliamentary Select Committee should be formed before the end of the current parliamentary meeting.
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman