With TPP gone, RCEP is now more urgent: Malaysian PM

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New Delhi, April 3 (IANS) With the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being buried by the US, negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement should be concluded latest by early 2018, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said here on Monday.

“It is more relevant now than before that we conclude RCEP. With the TPP gone, we need RCEP as a free trade arrangement for this area,” Razak said.

He was addressing the India Malaysia Business Forum here organised jointly by industry chambers Ficci, Assocham and CII along with the Malaysian Investment Development Authority.

“We should urge the negotiators to try and conclude the RCEP negotiations by the end of this year (2017), or latest by early next year (2018),” he said.

The 16-member RCEP is composed of the 10 Asean members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam — and their six free-trade agreement partners India, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

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After assuming office on January 20, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the TPP agreement that it had signed with Japan and 10 other Pacific-Rim nations.

TPP was described as the largest regional trade pact in history.

RCEP negotiations were launched in 2015. The 16 countries account for over a quarter of the world’s economy, estimated to be more than $75 trillion.

Addressing the gathering earlier, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said India was looking forward to Razak’s guidance on RCEP negotiations.

“We have a great ongoing engagement with Malaysia on RCEP negotiations, in a world where TPP has collapsed and plurilateral agreements are in retreat,” Sitharaman said.

“The RCEP will bring tremendous gain to the emerging economies and the entire Southeast Asian region,” she added.

Describing Razak as a Malaysian Prime Minister who is “friendly, understanding and caring about India”, Sithraman invited Malaysian companies, known for their expertise in infrastructure, to gain from India’s plans to invest $1 trillion in developing the country’s infrastructure.

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“Malaysian expertise combined with Indian public spending would be a win-win situation for both countries,” she said.

Razak said that though bilateral trade had increased four-fold in the period 2003-2015, “last few years have seen a decline somewhat and we need to reverse this trend.”

“Hope 2017 will see a reversal.”

Bilateral trade with Malaysia, which was worth $16.9 billion in 2014-15 and $12.8 billion in 2015-16, fell to $10.8 billion in 2016-17.

Razak, who has visited India many times, is leading the largest Malaysian delegation that includes 11 cabinet ministers, for the longest official visit to India by a prime minister of Malaysia.

Following official level talks here, both prime ministers have expressed their aspiration to see bilateral trade increase to $15 billion in the near future.

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Bilateral relations were upgraded to the leval of an “enhanced strategic partnership” signed during the Malaysia visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015.

Razak pointed out that Malaysian investments in India had been growing and amounted to $4.5 billion worth in 2016.

The Malaysian Prime Minister also announced that business-to-business agreements worth $36 billion had been signed by companies of both countries, the documents for which were exchanged at the event.

A major MoU was signed between GMR Group subsidiary GMR Energy and Malaysia’s TNB Remaco, to set up a joint venture in India for operation and maintenance of power plants.

“TNB recently invested $300 million (Rs 2,000 crore) in GMR Energy Ltd (GEL) to take up a 30 per cent equity stake in select portfolio of GEL assets,” GMR Group said in a statement. here.



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