Malaysia Seeks FTA Talks With Gulf States

From Abdul Muin Abdul Majid

MANAMA (Bahrain), Jan 19 (Bernama) — Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
has expressed hope that negotiations on the proposed establishment of a
free trade agreement (FTA) between Malaysia and the six-nation Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) can start as soon as possible and a mutually
beneficial pact concluded.

Making a case for the FTA, the Malaysian prime minister said the
GCC was attractive for Malaysia as it offered a lucrative market and
wide range of opportunities for Malaysian exporters, investors and
service providers.

Addressing a business forum organised here today in conjunction
with his two-day visit to Bahrain, he said: “I’m sure the business
communities within the Gulf region, particularly from Bahrain, will
also find the prospect of an FTA very enticing.

“This is because Malaysia can be used as a platform to penetrate
the Asean market and the other lucrative markets of our FTA partners
such as Japan, China and Korea.”

According to Abdullah, Malaysia had made the FTA proposal through
the GCC secretariat and it had received strong support from the
business communities in Malaysia and the region.

The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and
the United Arab Emirates while Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar,
Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and

Speaking at the business forum entitled “Malaysia-Bahrain Business
Opportunities”, the Malaysian leader said he strongly believed that an
FTA would have a significant impact in improving the status of current
bilateral trade and investment between Malaysia and the Gulf region
which was still small.

Abdullah also made a reference to the prospects of increasing
trade and investment among the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
(OIC) fraternity.

He said a mechanism to expand trade among OIC members, called the
Trade Preferential System Among Member States of the OIC (TPS-OIC), had
been concluded.

However, Abdullah said, the implementation of the scheme had yet
to take place because a large number of members had not ratified the
implementing protocol for tariff reduction.

“Malaysia believes that it is in the collective interest of all
OIC members to ensure the early implementation of the TPS-OIC,” he said.

The prime minister noted that the convening of the business forum
was timely in view of the current global economic slowdown, with both
countries realising the need to find new ways to spur economic growth.

“Encounters such as ours can facilitate the marriage of
opportunity, capital and entrepreneurship to yield tangible results,”
he said.

Abdullah said trade between Malaysia and Bahrain had grown from a
relatively low base of US$47.3 million in 1997 to US$183.6 million in
2007. From January to November 2008, total bilateral trade amounted to
US$181.6 million.

He said he had been informed that Malaysian construction companies
were doing well in Bahrain, having successfully completed projects such
as the Formula One circuit, the North Manama Corridor improvement
project and the highway link to Durrat Al-Bahrain.

Ongoing projects undertaken by Malaysian companies include the
Sitra Causeway bridges, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Highway, Lulu Reef
Island access bridge and the Bahrain City Centre.

Besides construction, Abdullah said Malaysian companies could
provide products and services in sectors such as halal food and
services, oil and gas equipment and services, building materials,
pharmaceuticals as well as healthcare services.

Acknowledging that Bahrain was also a major Islamic banking and
financial sector, he said there should be greater engagement taking
place between the Islamic financial sectors of the two countries.

He also said that Bahraini companies should not miss the
opportunity to establish direct business contacts at the second
Malaysia Services Exhibition taking place in Dubai from March 17 to 19
and the Malaysian International Halal Showcase from May 6 to 10 in
Kuala Lumpur.