Malaysia out to mend ties with India after Dr M's remarks on Kashmir
KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia is working to resolve a spat with India over Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's stance on Kashmir. It hopes that a 16-nation trade pact, which includes India, will be signed this year despite the strained ties, the country's trade minister said yesterday.
Ties suffered a downturn after Mr Mahathir told the UN General Assembly last month that India had "invaded and occupied" Kashmir, a disputed Muslim-majority region also claimed by Pakistan.
India revoked the autonomous status of its Jammu and Kashmir state on Aug 5, and has rejected foreign criticism, largely from Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia, insisting it is an internal affair.
Indian traders have called for a boycott of Malaysian palm oil - which Mr Mahathir has said amounts to a trade war - and there are concerns that negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could be affected too.
The spat between Malaysia, the world's second biggest producer and exporter of palm oil, and its current biggest customer, India, could most likely benefit Indonesia, the biggest producer and exporter of palm oil.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Malaysia's minister of international trade and industry, Mr Darell Leiking, said RCEP talks were on track and a final deal should include all the intended participants: the 10 members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and six Asia-Pacific countries - China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
A RCEP summit will be held in Bangkok on Nov 4.
Mr Leiking said "anything can happen" before the summit, but all 16 countries were moving toward finalising the free trade agreement.
"We hope that RCEP negotiations can be concluded by year-end so that Malaysian companies could reap the opportunities from this mega FTA in opening up more market access for our products and services," he said.
Separately, the Malaysian minister in charge of palm oil said yesterday the government was considering sending a delegation to meet India's top vegetable oil trade body, which had called on members to boycott Malaysian palm oil.
"It's good to talk and it's good not to do harm to bilateral trade," Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok told reporters in parliament. - REUTERS