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Rising Protectionist Sentiment Temporary, Says Mustapa

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KUALA LUMPUR – The rising tide of protectionism against trade globally is expected to be temporary and would depend on respective governments’ efforts to tackle the issue, said Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.

The International Trade and Industry Minister said the rise of the anti-globalisation movement is evidenced by Brexit, the vote by British citizens to leave the European Union.

“It is true throughout the world there are rising protectionist pressures, people are uncomfortable that trade does not benefit the man on the street.

“So, we have to make sure that trade works for everyone and not just the big companies but smallholders also benefit from the open market,” he told reporters after launching the ASEAN Economic Integration Forum 2016 here today.

Mustapa said such protectionist sentiment also exists in Malaysia as some people are not comfortable with foreign ownership but the government’s stand is to move forward and embrace liberalisation.

“There might be challenges in the short term but overall in the long term it will help economic growth.

“So, we have to deal with our people, engage with them and convince them that trade is good for the country in the long term,” he said.

ASEAN member countries are working closely to work on non-tariff issues, he noted.

“We are confident that going forward, there will be a reduction in non-tariff barriers (in ASEAN countries). If there is any form of protectionism, it will be temporary because in the longer term, people will realise the benefit of a more open and liberalised economy,” he said.

ASEAN members have eliminated 93.9 per cent of 506 non-tariff barriers highlighted in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) scorecard.

Meanwhile, Mustapa hit out at certain quarters who he said are spreading false information on social media about the country’s economy, saying they are irresponsible and trying to destabilise economic stability.

“We are not in a state of denial. Before, we were growing by six to seven per cen, but at the time we were still beginning to develop.

“Now, a growth of four to six per cent is reasonable in the current economic conditions, as our economy becomes increasingly mature,” he said.

The country’s economic growth is better than that in developed countries, which are generally growing at around one per cent, he pointed out.

“It’s not true that our country is facing terrible economic difficulties. We may be facing challenges, but we should work hard to defend our economy,” he added.

The two-day forum that began yesterday is organised by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, World Trade Institute as well as other foreign higher education institutions including the UK’s University of Oxford and Switzerland’s University of Bern.- BERNAMA

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