November 2010 update on the Australia-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement negotiations

The 8th round of Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA) negotiations was held in Canberra from 18-22 October 2010. The round made progress across the negotiating agenda, with the market access negotiations entering a more substantive phase. Australia provided Malaysia with a paper outlining the tariff offer that it was prepared to make and the commitments Australia would be seeking from Malaysia in return. Australia and Malaysia exchanged initial market access offers on services and investment.

Malaysia undertook to respond to Australia’s paper on its tariff offer by 31 January 2011. Discussions were held on draft chapter text in the areas of goods, rules of origin (ROO), customs procedures, safeguards, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures. A number of ROO product specific rules were agreed and further inter-sessional work was scheduled.

Australia and Malaysia exchanged views about initial services offers and agreed to exchange revised offers by 31 January 2011. It was agreed that offers on movement of natural persons would be exchanged before the next round. Progress was made on the draft services-related texts on telecommunications, movement of natural persons, financial services and mutual recognition arrangements. Malaysia and Australia agreed to exchange written comments on each other’s investment offers inter-sessionally. Discussion on the draft investment chapter further reduced the list of issues to be resolved.

Electronic commerce and competition policy made reasonable progress, with Malaysia focused on the entry into force of its new competition law and the establishment of its competition body. A number of additional provisions were agreed on e-commerce. A number of articles in the draft intellectual property chapter were also agreed. New copyright legislation is expected to be introduced the Malaysian Parliament in December and new patents and trademarks bills in 2011. Australia agreed to consider further information from Malaysia on its proposed economic and technical cooperation proposals.

In the margins of the negotiating round, Australia continued to emphasise the value it placed on having commitments on government procurement.

Australia also hosted a roundtable meeting between officials and Australian business stakeholders in the margins of the round. This provided an opportunity for Australian business to be briefed on the status of the negotiations and to discuss issues and interests directly with Malaysian negotiators. The meeting included representatives from Australian professional services, autos, telecommunications, agriculture, chemicals and plastics sectors, along with peak industry associations and the Malaysia-Australia Business Council.

Australia and Malaysia agreed to consult inter-sessionally on the date for the next round.