US official says no rush over trans-Pacific trade pact

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Trade representative says deal will not be inked without public consultation; final draft to be made public in all 12 countries.

KUALA LUMPUR – The U.S.’s trade representative said Thursday that there is no rush to conclude the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) although negotiations are “nearing an end.”

Michael Froman told participants at a TPP public consultation in Kuala Lumpur that negotiations were entering a crucial stage and the parties involved would meet at the end of the week “to deliberate on some tough decisions.”

“Transparency is our key focus that needs to be addressed. For now, there is no agreement and what is known in public is only the bits and pieces. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Froman, U.S. President Barack Obama’s principal adviser and spokesman on international trade, said there are still a few outstanding issues, mainly regarding consensus on state-owned enterprises and intellectual property.

He assured that the TPP would not be inked without public consultation, as its final draft would be available for public viewing in all 12 negotiating countries 60 days before the signing date.

“The document can then be debated and deliberated by all segments of society, and then decide on individual nation basis, whether to be a founding member,” he added.

Stressing that Malaysia would be the largest beneficiary after Vietnam in the Asian region, he explained that a benefit analysis had suggested the deal would contribute to the country’s exports growth by over 11 percent and its gross domestic product growth by 5.6 percent.

“The TPP would also help Malaysia to achieve its developed economy status by 2020,” he added.

Meanwhile, he also assured that the TPP would not affect Malaysia’s Bumiputera policies — which grant ethnic Malays privileges such as financial aid, employment opportunities and government procurements on the grounds that they are economically weaker than the minority ethnic Chinese.

Saying that Malaysian negotiators had repeatedly stressed the matter’s importance, Froman stressed, “our view is that it is really the sovereign decision of Malaysia what direction they take the Bumiputera policy in the future.”

The TPP is being negotiated between 12 countries — the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei — which represent more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

The largest economy in the world, China, is said to be mulling whether to enter the controversial pact.

While the final TPP draft is expected to be concluded by mid-2015 with the consent of all 12 head of states, 10 chapters of its 29 topics have been finalized and another 10 are in the final stages of negotiations.

The crucial nine additional chapters requiring further deliberation include international property rights, environment, state-owned enterprise, investment, rules of origin and financial services, as well as preamble and exceptions.

A key stumbling block is said to be the U.S. refusal to yield on the contentious Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause of the agreement, which critics contend would open signatory states to legal action by private corporations if any law is deemed harmful to a firm’s commercial interests.

In Malaysia, the meteoric emergence of anti-TPP movements has battered its effort to justify the agreement’s benefit to the general public as well as to the country’s economy.

The movements are concerned that special economic rights enjoyed by local Malays would be jeopardized via the pact. Most organizations are not interested in hearing the government’s explanation, but merely want Malaysia to withdraw its participation.

The call to bar Malaysia from joining the pact was led by former premier Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat.

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