World

Britain and Malaysia must work towards a post Brexit free trade deal. Here’s why

Mah Siew Keong is ­Malaysian Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities

BY Mah Siew-Keong   /  15 December 2017

As the UK’s negotiations with the European Union move into phase 2, the spotlight has moved onto the UK’s future trade relations, both inside and outside Europe.

Malaysia sees both the European Union and the United Kingdom as dependable friends and allies, and the Malaysian Government’s goal is to improve our relations with both.

Malaysia is currently in negotiations to complete a trade agreement with the European Union. And, when the timing is appropriate, we look forward to completing a trade agreement that will bring us closer to the United Kingdom, and accelerate trade and exchange between our peoples.

Post-Brexit, we will continue to value close ties with both the EU27 and the U.K.

GDP growth in Malaysia is expected to continue at over 5% per annum, well above the global average. Demand for British expertise in Malaysia will grow ,­ especially in the fast-growing fields of consumer goods
and professional services. Malaysia also has one of the world’s fastest-growing middle-classes, and that emergence has led to a boom in demand for high-value imported products.

What is the political attraction of such a closer UK-Malaysia cooperation? First and foremost, we have shared desire to advance the global narrative of open trade for the benefit of all. And to achieve this we must together overcome political protectionism.

A good example of this sort of damaging protectionism is the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, currently passing through the European Parliament. Two committees have now proposed banning palm oil biofuels altogether (but no other competitor oils would be so treated). Palm oil is one of Malaysia¹s most important exports, and is overseen by my Ministry. This is a classic case of discriminatory treatment, and of EU protectionism against imported products.

The Malaysian Government encourages the U.K. to pursue an open and liberal approach to exports passing between our markets, and to support Malaysia’s desire for a non-discriminatory approach to palm oil, and other imported products.

I have written recently in the UK press about the benefits that such an open approach to trade could bring for both of our nations. The warm response from colleagues and friends in the U.K. is heartening.

650,000 small farmers in Malaysia produce palm oil. What greater example is there of how trade can open markets, drive economic growth, and reduce poverty? Malaysia’s poverty rate has dropped from over 50% to under 5% in a matter of decades.

The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive now puts at risk this progress. The U.K. Government has the opportunity to support the principle of open trade and economic development that has prospered in Malaysia

A new U.K.-Malaysia relationship is a win-win, just waiting to happen. In the meantime, our two nations can continue to work together to defend our vital interests, and to support key points of principle on open trade and poverty alleviation.


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