Malaysia PM proposes free trade pact between ASEAN, Gulf council

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia is proposing the creation of a free trade agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) its premier said on Friday at a summit of the two blocs.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said such an agreement would be the first of its kind between ASEAN and Gulf states.

“This agreement is crucial in advancing progressive, inclusive and sustainable growth especially as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and face geopolitical uncertainties,” he said in a speech at the ASEAN-GCC Summit in Saudi Arabia on Friday.

ASEAN, a 10-member bloc of more than 600 million people, has for years been seeking to integrate its economies, worth a combined $2.3 trillion, through trade, investment and harmonised standards and customs procedures.

However, efforts to establish free trade deals have been protracted, with some members with exports-reliant economies going it alone in seeking better access to their key markets.

ASEAN is part of the Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

(Reporting by Danial Azhar; Editing by Martin Petty)