Mahathir : Difficult to lower tariffs for all at same rate

DATUK Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday that it was difficult to lower tariffs at the same rate for all countries to achieve trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Tariffs are necessary for countries which are developing. So you cannot lower tariffs throughout the world at the same rate,” the Malaysian Prime Minister said at a press conference.

He was responding to a question on whether it was possible to achieve free trade in the region by 2020 by lowering trade barriers.

Top-level advisers to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum last month urged the group’s members to commit themselves to ensuring free trade in the region by 2020.

The Eminent Persons Group recommended that the region complete the trade-liberalisation process by 2020, starting in 2000, with countries moving according to their stage of development.

The EPG’s recent recommendation of ensuring free trade in the region by 2020 prompted different responses from the six Asean countries. Singapore, for example, has been supportive of the report, while Malaysia reacted negatively to it.

Dr Mahathir rejected the notion of timetables for the lowering of trade barriers, and moves to establish free trade in the Asia-Pacific by 2020. He reiterated his objection yesterday. “Do we reduce tariffs to zero level in 10 years for Malaysia or five years for the United States?” he asked, adding that Malaysia would not “lower everything and allow everybody to move around freely”.

He said he supported Indonesia’s proposal that tariffs be lowered at different rates by countries with different development levels, but this required greater discussion among Apec members.

Apec, grouping the world’s most powerful economies outside Europe, includes the United States, Thailand, the Philippines, Hongkong, Singapore, Canada, Indonesia, Brunei, Mexico, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and China.

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