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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir calls for changes to TPP-11

Embattled trade deal once again on shaky ground

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir criticized the current trade agreement as being unfair to countries with weaker economies. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wants to revise the 11-member version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to give weaker economies more breathing room, in yet another setback for the ambitious trade deal.

"We have to review" the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP-11, the newly elected leader told Nikkei on Friday. The previous government led by Najib Razak had promoted and signed on to the deal, which was finalized last November.

Mahathir argued that several of the conditions inserted by the U.S. before it withdrew from the framework put weaker economies like Malaysia at a disadvantage. "It is important to take into consideration the level of development of a country," he said, urging special consideration for his country.

Though Mahathir did not reject the significance of agreements like the TPP, he said Malaysia would have little to sell and much to buy in a purely free trade environment. "Small, weaker economies must be given a chance to protect their products," he said.

The TPP-11 takes effect once six of its members ratify the deal, but would not apply to countries that have not yet completed that step. Given the other members' push to launch the framework as soon as possible, it seems unlikely they will heed Mahathir's calls, which would likely mean renegotiating the entire agreement.

Mahathir did not tell Nikkei whether he would consider leaving the trade pact altogether. But if he were to do so, "We might have to start from scratch again like when U.S. President Donald Trump exited the original TPP," a Japanese government official said.

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