As an open economy, Malaysia is set to gain from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), that covers the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its major partners including China, Malaysian government officials and analysts said.
Malaysia sees RCEP as a bulwark against the rising protectionism in parts of the world and is working with other RCEP countries for the early conclusion of the trade pact.
The 10 ASEAN countries would like to continue free trade and working as a whole to strengthen their position in the negotiation of a major trade agreement like RCEP, said Ong Ka Chuan, Malaysia's second minister of international trade and industry.
"If protectionism rises, we would have to negotiate trade bilaterally with one individual country after another, few of which would attach great importance to us," he told Xinhua.
"But if we negotiate a trade agreement as a group, we would have a heavier weigh with a population of over 600 million," he added.
RCEP will provide exponential economic boost to Malaysia as it involves 10 ASEAN countries and six dialogue partners, namely China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Malaysian government said its recent-released annual economic report.
Collectively, RCEP represents almost 50 percent of the world's population, with a combined gross domestic product of some .5 trillion and accounting for about 28 percent of the global trade, said the report.
"The realization of RCEP not only is positive to boost ASEAN's and regional economic growth via the deepening of trade, services and investment flows but also complements the on-going work in deepening economic integration within ASEAN with the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025," said Lee Heng Guie of Malaysia's Social Economic Research Center.
"The creation of a large integrated market in RCEP would attract global companies to locate their business in the region, and be part of the growing global value chain activities," he told Xinhua.
Malaysia was among the 12 countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but the country's focus has shifted to RCEP and to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, said Ong, the Malaysian official, following the withdraw of the United States from TPP that cast doubt on the future of the agreement.
Proposed in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks on and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes. Malaysia is one of the first countries that supported the initiative.
The negotiations for the RCEP, launched in November 2012, have advanced in areas including liberalization of goods and services and the rules on the country of origin. The latest round of negotiation was held in South Korea in late October.
"ASEAN economy is extremely external-oriented, with extra-ASEAN trade making up three quarters of ASEAN trade volume. As such, the earliest conclusion of RCEP can only help spur further growth in ASEAN, and we are looking very much forward to it," said Oh Ei Sun, special adviser for International Affairs of Malaysia's Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.