Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has questioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, claiming that smaller participants are at a disadvantage.
The 92-year-old said the trade pact, which includes Australia, Japan Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, should take various levels of development into consideration.
The new-old prime minister’s remarks will be seen as a setback for the 11-member trade pact, which was agreed earlier this year after one of the original signatories, the US, was pulled out by Donald Trump.
Mahathir argued that several of the conditions inserted by the US before it withdrew from the deal put weaker economies like Malaysia at a disadvantage. “It is important to take into consideration the level of development of a country,” he argued.
“Small, weaker economies must be given a chance to protect their products,” Mahathir told Japan’s Nikkei. “We have to review.”
The newly named Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is due to cut tariffs in countries that together amount to more than 13 per cent of the world’s economic activity with US$10 trillion in GDP.
Before the Trump withdrawal, it was 40 per cent.
Mahathir did not say that he wanted Malaysia to follow Trump to the exit.
He has said he intended to hold the premiership for two years.
This week Mahathir stressed he would prioritise efforts to restore the nation’s wealth and rescue the economy within those two years.
“If possible, in the near term, I want to overcome all the problems faced. That is my priority, to restore the wealth and economy and make the country one that is progressive.”
Mahathir has already pulled out of a high-speed rail project with Singapore and is reviewing a US$14-billion domestic rail network to be built by Chinese firms.
With Malaysia’s debt is more than RM1 trillion, Mahathir said no country should have a debt beyond its means and expressed surprise at how the previous government could have allowed it to happen.
The prime minister from 1981 to 2003 said the new government “must review all agreements” entered into by his predecessor and one-time protege, Najib Razak, including infrastructure, trade and security deals.
He also said Malaysia would review the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which is being negotiated between China and Asean. Malaysia is among the countries with which Beijing has overlapping claims.
Mahathir said he did not want naval warships in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.
All change: the TPP team in 2010. Picture credit: Wikimedia