Reducing the US trade deficit in Malaysia through the selling of arms could be the focus of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House tomorrow, according to a news report.
In March, Trump listed several countries, including Malaysia, for being “trade cheats” responsible for the nearly US$50 billion trade deficit of the US.
“Trade is likely to take centre-stage in talks,” Singapore’s Straits Times said in a report published today.
It spoke to US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Southeast Asia Programme deputy director and senior advisor Murray Hiebert, who said that "Najib may well want to assure Trump that Malaysia is exploring ways to reduce the deficit and buy more American products”.
“One quick way would be to buy more American arms,” the report said.
Opposition lawmaker Sim Tze Tzin previously warned Najib that the US might sell Malaysia weapons it neither needed nor could afford.
“Our security threats are regional terrorist groups with no access to sophisticated weapons. Given our economic stagnation and high national debt, there is no necessity to buy sophisticated big-ticket weapons from the US,” Sim had said.
US trade deficit with Malaysia stands at US$6 billion (RM25.17 billion), according to figures from International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed (photo), who also denied that Malaysia had participated in dubious trade practices and was thus not deserving of the “trade cheat” label.
However, official US figures have put the 2016 deficit some four times higher, at US$24.8 billion (RM104.02 billion).
In July, US officials and the International Trade Ministry agreed to work together to “address outstanding issues”, including establishing working groups related to goods, intellectual property, financial services, labour and the environment.
On Malaysia’s side, the ministry hopes for an "upgraded" version of the country’s only trade facilitation agreement with the US - the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) - during Najib’s Washington visit.
The US is Malaysia’s second largest foreign investor.
Najib’s US itinerary
Aside from trade, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), North Korea and China are likely topics at the Najib-Trump meeting tomorrow, according to the same Straits Times report.
Najib’s three-day visit to the US will begin with a “four-eyed meeting” (one-on-one meeting) with Trump at the Oval Office in the White House before a delegation meeting with Trump’s administration members including Vice-President Mike Pence, State Secretary Rex Tillerson, Defence Secretary James Mattis, Chief of Staff Gen John Kelly, National Security Adviser Lt-Gen HR McMaster and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner.
Both sides would take stock of bilateral relations and discuss enhancing cooperation in economy, security, defence, education, counter-terrorism, immigration and science and technology, added Malaysian ambassador to Washington Zulhasnan Rafique.
The ongoing Rohingya humanitarian crisis will also be discussed.
On Wednesday, Najib will meet with the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and later with the Malaysian diaspora in conjunction with Malaysia Day celebrations.