10/20/2006, 00.00
MALAYSIA – USA
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Malaysians concerned over possible Free Trade Agreement with the US

by Joseph Masilamany
The government's silence on what is in the imminent Free Trade Agreement with the United States is fuelling protest by opposition parties, NGOs and civil society groups, who want to know more. Many fear that domestic producers might not survive competition from US agricultural products.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Opposition parties, workers and small size manufacturers have demanded more transparency from the government as it sets out to negotiate free trade deals with the United States. Many are concerned about the government's unwillingness to disclose the real costs of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on the national economy. A coalition of opposition political parties, NGOs and civil society groups is demanding the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) stop FTA talks with the US until a thorough study is done on all the issues concerned and is disclosed to the public.

There have been so far two rounds of negotiations; the first in Washington, the second in Penang. The next is scheduled to take place between October 30 and November 3 in Kuala Lumpur, led by MITI Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Mamatare.

FTA opponents point out that US Congress trade representatives normally release reports on its would-be partner's business sector and industry before and after talks. In the case of Malaysia this has not happened.

"These (US-Malaysia FTA) talks are so secretive that the public is not aware of what is being discussed and how it will affect the country!" coalition chairperson Xavier Jayakumar said.

According to him, MITI refused the coalition's request for a meeting and, despite its willingness to exchange correspondence on the issue, the ministry has not provided any information on the discussions with its US counterpart.

Jayakumar also pointed out that the elimination of tariffs and other barriers to US imports would lead to the flooding of the Malaysian market with US agricultural products made cheaper by government subsidies.
"At this point, we've been having problems with (rice imports from) Thailand, and now we're going to have US rice?" he said, noting that 25 per cent of US rice production is subsidised by the US government, far more than the Malaysian government's assistance to local farmers.

The coalition will organise a demonstration against the FTA with the US in front of Sheraton Imperial Hotel, the venue of the five-day talks.

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