Need To Kickstart EAEC, Says Dr Mahathir

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By Abdul Muin Majid
TOKYO, June 11 (Bernama) -- There is a need to kick-start the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) initiative amid growing trade protectionism shown by countries such as the United States (US), says Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Saying that he was still in favour of the caucus, Dr Mahathir pointed out that in the past, the proposal did not go through due to objections from the US.

"But, now that America seems to become isolationist again, it's not in the position to demand that we do not form EAEC. So we should consider the formation of EAEC seriously," he told the 24th International Conference on the Future of Asia or Nikkei Conference here Monday.

He said the proposed regional free trade zone should not only involve countries of the Far East and Southeast Asia but also countries like India and some Central Asian nations.

Dr Mahathir, who is on a three-day working visit to Japan, first mooted the establishment of the EAEC in 1997.

Nevertheless, Dr Mahathir stressed that different countries should be treated differently when it came to free trade.

This, he explained, was because some might need some protection for themselves because they were not in the position to compete with great trading nations of the world due to certain weaknesses or lack of capacities.

Dr Mahathir opined that he was not very keen on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement as it would adversely affect Malaysia.

"But, in the new organisation in East Asia, we're going to have some kind of a free trade organisation," he said, stressing that countries with different capacities to compete must be given due consideration.

“It's like playing golf, when you are playing golf you need handicaps with the weakest people getting the highest handicaps, so in that way the competition will be much fairer," he explained.

The prime minister said when talking about free trade, it was quite obvious that some developed countries found that free trade was not so acceptable, citing the US which was indulging in protected trade.

"If America, a huge country with the biggest economy in the world...in fact believes in restrictions of trade, it is not just justified.

"But, for small countries it is justified because they cannot compete on the same level as other big countries," he said.

Dr Mahathir said he favoured one single grouping of the whole world which was subjected to the same standards while giving due consideration to the weaknesses and strengths of different nations.

On China, the prime minister said its huge market obviously attracted other countries including Southeast Asia.

"We want access to this market. So we have to deal with China whether we like it or not," he said, adding that the best way was to try and negotiate as a group rather than individual countries.

As individual (countries) we can't hope to convince China of anything. But, if the whole of Southeast Asia (for example) through the EAEC were to negotiate with China...I think China would accede to that," he said.

– BERNAMA