KUALA LUMPUR, — Second Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister Ong Ka Chuan said Malaysia is currently pressing hard for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) hopefully reaching an early conclusion.

“There is no issue for ASEAN to integrate with the six countries or dialogue partners in discussions for the RCEP. The challenge is that, the six countries, do not have free trade agreements (FTAs) among themselves.

“They (dialogue partners) need to sort out the problem. Once, this challenge is overcome, then we can conclude the RCEP soon,” he added.

MITI Secretary General, J. Jayasiri said the RCEP pact members may be looking to launch the agreement in packages from year-end, if the challenges between the dialogue partners are not sorted out by then.

“Negotiators (of the RCEP) have just finished their round (of discussion) in Hyderabad (India) and the next (discussion) will be in Incheon (South Korea). They are trying very hard to conclude the discussions by year-end,’ he added.

Launched in 2012 during the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia, the RCEP is a proposed FTA between the 10 ASEAN members with the six dialogue partners being Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

The 16 RCEP countries account for almost 50 per cent of the global population, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$22.8 trillion or 30.7 per cent of the world’s GDP.

Meanwhile MITI is confident of Malaysia’s total trade increasing to US$373.11 billion (RM1.6 trillion) this year, as compared to US$347.46 billion (RM1.49 trillion) in 2016. (US$1=RM4.28)

Ong said based on the pace of trade for the last six months, Malaysia can easily, at least, surpass last year’s trade value.

This is taking into consideration the pace being sustained for the rest of the year, he added.

“For the past six months, our trade has been doing very well. From January to June, the total trade touched RM859.17 billion, of which RM451.05 billion was from exports and RM408.12 billion, imports, with a surplus of RM42.93 billion.

“Of the total exports, Electric and Electronics (E&E) products recorded RM161 billion, proving that the country is transforming from commodity-based products towards those that are manufacturing related,” he told reporters after the ASEAN Day opening ceremony here, Wednesday.

This, he said, could be due to the Industry 4.0 which is currently growing with a pick-up in demand for electric and electronics-related goods, with a lot of multinationals and local factories in the segment doing very well.