Malaysia welcomes TPP deal, claims it won key concessions

US Trade Representative Michael Froman (centre) is flanked by Japan's Trade Minister Akira Amari (left) and Malaysia's Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed (right), as he speaks during the closing press conference after an agreement was reached by 12 Trans
US Trade Representative Michael Froman (centre) is flanked by Japan's Trade Minister Akira Amari (left) and Malaysia's Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed (right), as he speaks during the closing press conference after an agreement was reached by 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) member countries, in Georgia, US, on Oct 5, 2015.

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia has hailed the new Pacific Rim trade deal as a boost for commerce, saying it won key concessions in areas including its controversial system of business preferences for its ethnic Malay majority.

Twelve countries on Monday (Oct 5) sealed a hard-won agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade alliance spearheaded by US President Barack Obama's administration.

"We firmly believe that through (TPP) we will be able to further promote our trade and investment agenda and help Malaysia mitigate the challenges of the global economic environment," Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said in a statement released late on Monday (Oct 5).

He said the deal would give Malaysia greater access to markets such as the United States, Canada, Mexico and Peru, with which it does not currently have bilateral free-trade agreements.

It also would boost Malaysian exports of key products such as palm oil, rubber and electronics, he said.

Malaysia had said it would not agree to anything that threatens domestic priorities, primarily its politically sensitive system of favouring the ethnic Malay majority, or bumiputras, in a wide range of areas, including government procurement.

"Parties agreed to take into consideration almost all of our concerns and sensitivities, particularly in the areas of government procurement, state-owned enterprises and the bumiputra issues," he said.

He added that the country's negotiators won "longer transition periods and differential treatment for Malaysia's sensitive areas". Mr Mustapa gave no further details.

The Malay advantages have been a core government policy for decades, but are blamed for weakening economic competitiveness and causing racial tension in the multi-ethnic country.

The policies were a key factor in holding up progress on a free-trade pact with the United States proposed years ago, but which remains stalled after Malaysia vowed never to compromise on the issue.

The text of the deal is to be publicly released later, and still must be ratified by member countries.

The accord involves significant market openings from Canada, the United States and Japan, establishes mechanisms to handle disputes between foreign investors and governments, and requires equal treatment for foreign companies when doling out government contracts.

It also demands improved labour standards in countries like Malaysia, which has been accused of tolerating abusive labour practices in a number of industries.

Malaysia's opposition has criticised the secrecy of the talks and warned that the TPP could saddle consumers with higher medicine costs and provides too much protection for foreign companies.

It released a statement on Tuesday (Oct 6) calling for the deal to be fully scrutinised and debated before it is ratified.