Mahathir calls for review of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement

Newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has called for a review of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

He told reporters in an interview with Japan's Nikkei published on Saturday (9 June) that smaller economies like Malaysia were at a disadvantage under the current terms.

He noted that the trade pact, which includes Japan and Canada, should take into consideration the level of development of various countries, saying, "Small, weaker economies must be given a chance to protect their products. We have to review the TPP."

Dr Mahathir's call to review the agreement would be a blow for the 11-member trade pact.

Following the US withdrawal, the agreement is now being called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Speaking to Singapore reporters at the Apec Summit last November, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it took "a lot of skill and determination and willingness" among the 11 parties to agree not to renegotiate the pact, even though the circumstances have changed.

"It is not easy to take the TPP that was designed for 12 countries, remove one and then have the remaining 11 reach an agreement almost the same as the original, because economic calculations change, strategic calculations change, and political calculations change."

The agreement was finalised after tough negotiations earlier this year following the withdrawal of one of the original signatories, the United States.

It will reduce tariffs in countries that together amount to more than 13 per cent of the global economy, a total of $10 trillion (S$13.35 trillion) in gross domestic product. With the US, it would have represented 40 percent.

According to Nikkei, Dr Mahathir did not reject the significance of agreements such as the CPTPP and he did not say whether he would consider leaving the trade pact altogether.

Dr Mahathir, 92, was Malaysia's prime minister from 1981 and 2003.

The Prime Minister came out of retirement and joined hands with the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition pact to oust Mr Najib, whom he accused of corruption.

PH exceeded the expectation of many political observers and defeated the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that has ruled the nation for six decades at the 9 May general election.

In the interview with Nikkei, Dr Mahathir said his government "must review all agreements" entered into by the previous administration, including infrastructure, trade and security pacts.

He has announced that the High Speed Rail (HSR) project will be called off.

The Prime Minister said this was a final decision, but added, “It will take time because we had an agreement with Singapore.”

Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia will review the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which is being negotiated between Beijing and the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

Dr Mahathir reiterated Malaysia did not want the presence of warships in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.