KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The conclusion of the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will help to allay fears that the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) free trade deal is dividing Asean, Malaysia's trade minister has said.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the RCEP, which is still being negotiated, is complementary to the TPP which was concluded last October.
"What potentially could be a divisive issue has become an issue that is uniting us. There is a desire to know a bit more and (more) importantly is the desire to be part of (TPP)," Mustapa said during a panel discussion on "What's Next for the AEC" at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday (June 1).
There have been concerns among the 10 Asean members surrounding the TPP as the American-led TPP only involved four Asean countries - Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam - and excluded China while the RCEP involved all Asean members with China being part of the mega trade deal.
Mustapa said the Asean ambition to be one community was a work in progress.
"One side of the community has one lofty ambition and on the other side you have the least developed members.
"As policy makers we have to be realistic but we are moving in that direction of being one community. There has to be commitment to be one Asean."
Mustapa said Southeast Asia without Asean would have no peace, prosperity and progress.
"If you address this, you will recognise there has been progress. Despite all the misgivings, companies like Khazanah are doing okay, half of its companies are doing okay and multinationals are making Asean their base," he added.
Khazanah Nasional managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, who was a panel member, felt that Asean had made good progress.
"Is it half empty or half full? I think it is two-thirds full, which is not bad looking at the juxtaposition of protectionism on one side and integration on the other within Asean.
"As for the (TPP), let's see what happens in November. It will be ironic after all that Americans don't sign."
However, Azman felt that the "good stuff" in the (TPP) should be continued and brought forward.