Malaysian National News Agency

Bumi Preferences Pose A Hurdle In US-Malaysia FTA Talks
January 13, 2007 15:33 PM
By Salmy Hashim

WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (Bernama) -- Bumiputera preferences remain "the most challenging issue" in the ongoing United States-Malaysia free trade talks, chief US negotiator, Barbara Weisel, said Friday.

While the US was not looking to completely eliminate the social programme for Malays and other indigenous groups, "we want to see more transparency, more predictability" especially in government procurement and services, she said in a telephone news conference following the end of the fourth round of talks in San Francisco.

In the services sector, the US is pushing for liberalisation of Bumiputera preferences in telecommunications, financial services, express delivery, computers and energy distribution, she said.

Calling the Bumi issue "very sensitive... politically important", Weisel said there was room for compromise.

"I think there are ways to find resolution to these issues that don't undermine the policies that have been in place for a long time and allow the Malaysian government to open the market."

However, the Bumi preferences issue needs to be worked out before both sides could come up with a comprehensive agreement - "we're not willing to close the deal and come back to it in five years," she said.

Weisel expressed her optimism and said: "I think it is doable if both sides are committed to getting it done."

The assistant US Trade Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific expressed US hope to wrap up the talks by March 30 so it can be submitted to Congress before the president's trade promotion authority (TPA) expires on July 1.

That legislation requires US lawmakers to approve or reject trade pacts without making any changes.

"We believe that the progress we've made this week has put us within striking distance of concluding within the next few months," Weisel said.

Other issues on the table are agriculture, textiles and automobiles. Weisel added, the two sides had good discussions this week and had reached tentative agreement on many areas of the text which contained 23 chapters.

The next round of talks is scheduled to be held in Malaysia next month.


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