Recalling Bank Negara’s massive forex losses in 1990s


The government is moving ahead to investigate whether there were any wrongdoings in the massive foreign exchange losses suffered by Bank Negara some 25 years ago. Many people today may not have a good recollection of what happened, while many others probably had no knowledge of it until it became news again recently as the sitting government took aim at this nasty episode under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rule.

I was a reporter with Reuters then and had covered the losses that surfaced when the central bank released its annual reports for 1992 and 1993 in March 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I recall that those losses first puzzled me and others because bank officials did not come forward to talk about them at the press conference nor was the information contained in the press release. They were, however, disclosed in the last few pages of the 1992 report on the bank’s financial statement, which normally do not attract attention, as reporters would focus on the earlier parts that touched on the performance of the economy and banking sector.

But that year, we took a cursory look at those back pages and spotted something odd. Bank Negara’s financial statement showed its Other Reserves had plunged from RM10.1 billion in 1991 to RM743 million in 1992, or a loss of RM9.3 billion. There was also a Contingent Liability of RM2.7 billion.

When we asked about this, I recall that both then Bank Negara governor, the late Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein, and his deputy, Tan Sri Dr Lin See Yan, said it was nothing serious, as they were mere paper losses that could be recovered later. We were not convinced, but we were unable to challenge them, as we did not under stand the manner in which Bank Negara presented its accounts.

The next day, however, the market was abuzz with talk that the bank had lost billions in foreign exchange transactions and I remember writing stories on this for the next week or so. But nothing more came of it, although opposition MPs led by Lim Kit Siang continued to press the Ministry of Finance and Bank Negara for answers.

The matter really blew up a year later when Bank Negara tabled its 1993 report and disclosed another forex loss of RM5.7 billion. Here is what Jaafar said:

“In the Bank’s 1993 accounts, a net deficiency in foreign exchange transactions of RM5.7 billion is reported, an amount which will be written off against the Bank’s future profits. This loss reflected errors in judgment involving commitments made with the best intentions to protect the national interest prior to the publication of the Bank’s 1992 accounts towards the end of March 1993. As these forward transactions were unwound, losses unfolded in the course of 1993. In this regard, global developments over the past year had not been easy for the Bank; indeed, they made it increasingly difficult for the Bank to unwind these positions without some losses. For the most part, time was not on the Bank’s side. Nevertheless, this exercise is now complete — there is at this time no more contingent liabi lity on the Bank’s forward foreign exchange transactions on this account. An unfortunate chapter in the Bank’s history is now closed.”

Jaafar took responsibility for what happened and resigned, as did the bank official directly responsible for its foreign exchange operations, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

How did Bank Negara lose the billions?

Jaafar said the losses were owing to commitments made to protect the nation’s interests. He was referring to the bank’s operations in the global forex market to manage the country’s foreign reserves and, obviously, something went wrong in a big way.

Forex traders and journalists who covered financial markets in the late 1980s knew that Bank Negara had a reputation for taking aggressive positions to influence the value of the ringgit against the major currencies. When the bank is not happy with the direction of the ringgit, up or down, it makes its intentions known by either selling or buying ringgit.

One question I had always asked forex dealers when writing market reports for Reuters was, “Is Negara in the market today?”

Bank Negara has always maintained that its market operations were to prevent volatility and undue speculation. Its critics, on the other hand, said it also did so for profits, which it enjoyed for years.


What went wrong in 1992?

That was the year George Soros and other hedge funds bet heavily against the British pound on the basis that it was overvalued. The Bank of England (BOE) fought back by buying billions of sterling while Soros and gang shorted the battered currency.

As it did not want to deplete too much of its reserves to defend the fixed rate of the pound within the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, BOE capitulated by withdrawing from the ERM on Sept 16, 1992, since called Black Wednesday.

It was widely believed then that Bank Negara had bet on the wrong side of the fight between BOE and the hedge funds. It never thought that central banks could lose against specu lators, but BOE lost and Soros was said to have pocketed at least US$1 billion.

Bank Negara has never confirmed nor denied that this was indeed what happened but the evidence, although circumstantial, points to this as the reason for the loss of RM9.3 billion in its 1992 accounts and the subse quent loss of another RM5.7 billion in 1993, bringing its total loss to RM15 billion.

Was the loss more than RM15~30 bil?

Former Bank Negara assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid was reported as saying recently that the losses were actually US$10 billion. That would work out to RM25 billion at the then exchange rate of RM2.50 to a dollar. Murad also alleged that there were no proper investigations into the matter.

Following his allegations, the Cabinet has now set up a task force led by former chief secretary to the government, Tan Sri Sidek Hassan, to investigate whether there were wrongdoings that caused the losses, whether there was a cover-up on the size of the losses, and whether Parliament was misled.

So, who should the task force call up as part of its probe? I am guessing the following:

  1. Tun Mahathir, who was the prime minister then;
  2. Tun Daim Zainuddin, who was the minister of finance from 1984 to 1991 when Bank Negara was active in the forex market;
  3. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was the minister of finance when the losses surfaced in 1992 and 1993;
  4. Dr Lin, who was deputy governor of the central bank then;
  5. Tan Sri Ahmad Don, who succeeded Jaafar as governor;
  6. Murad, who made the allegations; and
  7. Nor Mohamed, who was head of forex operations.


Who is Nor Mohamed?

Nor Mohamed is the man who lost billions for Bank Negara and resigned along with Jaafar in 1993. He then kept a low profile with short spells at RHB Research Institute and Mun Loong Bhd.

In an ironic twist, the man who lost billions for the country was later credited with helping save the ringgit from currency speculators in 1998.

Frustrated by the year-long failure of governments and central banks to fight off speculators, who had devalued Asian currencies (the ringgit plunged to as low as 4.80 to the dollar), Tun Mahathir turned to Nor Mohamed for help. The doctor did not understand how the currency market worked and Nor Mohamed took him through it in great detail. The two men then confidentially devised the plan that shocked the world — the imposition of controls on Sept 1, 1998.

Widely criticised at the time (Ahmad Don and his deputy Datuk Fong Weng Phak resigned in protest), some now say the move helped bring an end to the crisis, as speculators feared other affected countries would do the same.

Nor Mohamed’s star shone again and he later became Minister of Finance 2 under Tun Mahathir and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He is now deputy chairman of Khazanah Nasional.

But now, a ghost from his past has been dug up as fodder for the political contest between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his biggest nemesis, Tun Mahathir. The objective is obvious. Tun Mahathir has attacked Najib incessantly over 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The current administration is fighting back by saying billions were also lost under Tun Mahathir’s watch. Tun Mahathir says there is a 1MDB cover-up and his foes are accusing him of doing the same.


Will the task force unearth anything that is not already known?

The task force needs three months to complete its work, so we will just have to wait for the full picture before we can come to any conclusion that can bring closure to something that happened 25 years ago.

Perhaps, one day, we will be lucky enough to also have the full picture of the affairs of 1MDB. Current Minister of Finance 2 Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani did say this month that no action had been taken against anyone in Malaysia over 1MDB because we have only “half the story” so far.

In that case, should we not have a task force on 1MDB as well so Malaysians can have the full picture?

By: Ho Kay Tat

Ho Kay Tat is publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group

This article appears in Issue 772 (March 27) of The Edge Singapore which is on sale now.

RCI can shed more light on forex losses

 Figures could be even greater than what had been disclosed, says STF chairman

KUALA LUMPUR: A Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) can reveal more details on the foreign exchange (forex) losses suffered by Bank Negara (BNM) in the 1980s and 1990s, said Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan.

The chairman of the Special Task Force (STF) to probe the forex losses said the figure was greater than what was disclosed.

However, the STF was unable to scrutinise further due to the limitations that it had, he said in an interview on Friday.

“As a task force, we have limitations. We were established on an administrative basis and not under any legislation.

“As such, the STF had no power to coerce anyone to come forward for any discussion or to give any information,” he said, adding that it only had access to documents that were available to the public, such as BNM’s annual reports and consultations between the central bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“We also cannot compel anyone to come forward. Even if you ask them to come and they don’t want to come, there is no issue about it.

“And even if they came and we questioned them, and they refused to answer, we cannot do anything about it.

“And it was not under oath. Even if they answered, we don’t know if that was the truth.

“So, that is why the RCI is better, although it is safe to say that the STF has reason to believe that the actual loss is different and much more than the figures given earlier,” said Sidek, a former Chief Secretary to the Government.

He added that the RCI could have access to documents relating to the forex losses, for instance from the Finance Ministry or BNM.

On Jan 26, former BNM assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid revealed that the central bank suffered US$10bil (RM42.9bil) in forex losses in the early 1990s, much higher than the figure of RM9bil disclosed by BNM.

Subsequently, a seven-member STF headed by Sidek was formed in February.

Sidek, who is Petronas chairman, said the STF focused on the three points in the terms of reference, one of which was conducting preliminary investigations into losses by BNM related to its speculative fo­­reign currency transactions.

It also investigated whether there was any action to cover up the losses and whether the Cabinet and Parliament were misled and it had to submit to the Government recom­mendations for further action, including the establishment of an RCI.

On June 21, the STF submitted its findings, concluding that it found that a prima facie case to merit in-depth investigations by establishing an RCI.

Explaining the process of the investigation, Sidek said 12 people, including former BNM governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, were interviewed by the STF, and all coopera­ted well.

Among the others who were summoned by the STF were PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, and former Finance Minister II and BNM assistant governor at the time Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

Asked on the need to investigate something that happened about two decades ago, Sidek said though it took place a long time ago, it had been revealed that the losses were huge.

“I feel that the people need an explanation on the matter, and the Government had decided to conduct an investigation.

“Therefore, an RCI is the only way for a complete understanding. If this is not done now, the matter will prolong.

“Five or 10 years from now it will crop up again.

“With a full investigation through an RCI, there could be closure to this,” Sidek said. — Bernama

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Dismayed over the exorbitant engineering consultancy fees, 4 times higher !


GEORGE TOWN: Barisan Nasional leaders have criticised the Penang Government for allegedly over-paying, by four times, the detailed design fees of three road projects.

“Construction is not a new industry. Many people are puzzled by the exorbitant consultancy fees,” said Penang MCA secretary Tang Heap Seng in a press statement yesterday.

He said the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) devised a standardised gazetted scale of fees for professional engineering consultancy in accordance with Section 4(1)(d) of the Registration of Engineers Act 1967 (Act 138), and it was highly irregular to deviate from it.

Yesterday, it was reported that Barisan’s strategic communication team sought the professional opinion of BEM on the costing of the three paired roads.

The board was said to have replied that the RM177mil in detailed design costs was four times higher than the maximum allowed under the gazetted scale of fees, which the board calculated to be RM41mil.

The three roads are from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, Air Itam to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway and Gurney Drive to the expressway. They are meant to be a traffic dispersal system for the proposed Penang Undersea Tunnel.

Penang MCA Youth chief Datuk Michael Lee Beng Seng also issued a statement, pointing out that the alleged overpaid amount of RM136mil was more than the reported RM100mil the state spent on flood mitigation in the last eight years.

“We are shocked that the Penang government has put the well-being and safety of the rakyat behind the interests of consultants and contractors.”

Gerakan vice-president Datuk Dr Dominic Lau highlighted that affordable housing, flash floods and landslides were issues that concerned Penangites.

On Tuesday, Barisan strategic communications director Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan announced that he was giving the Penang Government a week to explain BEM’s findings, failing which the matter would be referred to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

When asked to comment, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng replied: “Another day.” – The Star

 
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Singapore’s PM Lee family feud


A feud between the children of Singapore’s late founder Lee Kuan Yew has intensified. The family dispute first became public last year on the anniversary of Mr Lee’s death, when the prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s sister, Lee Wei Ling, accused him of exploiting the late leader’s legacy for personal gain.

This time, Lee Wei Ling and another brother have publicly accused Prime Minister Lee of disobeying their father’s last wishes

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Ex-Johor exco man, son and consultant face 21 counts amounting to RM36m


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JOHOR BARU: Former state executive councillor Datuk Abd Latif Bandi, his eldest son and a property consultant have been charged with a total of 21 counts of money laundering amounting to RM35.78mil in connection with the massive Johor land scandal that broke out in March.
The former state Housing and Local Government Committee chairman was charged with 13 counts of money laundering amounting to RM17.59mil.

His son Ahmad Fauzan Hatim, 25, and Amir Shariffuddin Abd Raub, 44, were charged with four counts each involving RM735,000 and RM17.46mil respectively.

They are said to have committed the offences via cheque transactions at five major banks around Johor Baru between November 2013 and December 2016.

Abd Latif, 51, pleaded not guilty to seven counts under Section 4(1) (b) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities 2001 (AMLA) (Act 613).

If found guilty, he can be sentenced to 15 years in jail and fined five times the amount or RM5mil, whichever is higher.

He also claimed trial to six counts under Section 4(1)(a) of the same Act, which carries a jail term of up to five years and a maximum fine of RM5mil, if convicted.

Ahmad Fauzan and Amir Sharifuddin also pleaded not guilty to four counts each under the Section 4(1) (b) and Section 4(1)(a) of the same Act, respectively.

Sessions Court judge Mohd Fauzi Mohd Nasir set bail at RM500,000 for Abd Latif, RM200,000 for Ahmad Fauzan and RM400,000 for Amir Shariffuddin in one surety each, to run concurrently with previously charged offences.

He was referring to the 33 counts of graft that Abd Latif and Amir Shariffuddin had claimed trial to on April 19 for allegedly converting bumiputra lots to non-bumiputra lots involving a total of RM30.3mil in Kota Masai, Tebrau, Kulai, Kempas, Nusajaya and Johor Baru.

The judge also fixed July 5 for next mention.

Abd Latif and Ahmad Fauzan were represented by a five-man legal team led by Datuk Hasnal Rezua Merican while lawyer Azrul Zulkifli Stork stood for Amir Shariffuddin.

The case was prosecuted by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) DPP Mohd Asnawi Abu Hanifah.

Earlier, the three accused arrived clad in orange lockup T-shirts and were escorted by MACC officers into the court at around 8.40am.

The Star by kathleen ann kili

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MACC starts probe on Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV)



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PUTRAJAYA: The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has begun its investigation into alleged im­­proprieties involving Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV), a day after its group president and CEO Datuk Zakaria Arshad was told to take an indefinite leave of absence.

The MACC took a statement from Zakaria, who was called to its headquarters here yesterday.

The commission’s next move will be to send investigators to FGV headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to “see what they can find” and determine if there is a case.

Zakaria, 57, arrived at the MACC headquarters at 2.20pm alone, with no lawyers or associates accompanying him.

He brought along a stack of files, which he claimed were documents on FGV.

Zakaria looked calm when he arrived and maintained the same demeanour when he left some four hours later.

“The MACC asked me to come today. I’m also here to hand over some documents to them,” he told reporters, adding that his session was not over.

“I will be called again to give my statement, and I will give my full co-operation.”

MACC deputy chief commis­sioner Datuk Azam Baki told The Star: “We will go through his statement and will decide what to do next.”

Azam also confirmed that anti-graft investigators would go to FGV headquarters at 10am today to get hold of more documents.

On Tuesday, Zakaria and three other FGV officers were asked to take a leave of absence, which chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad said was a decision made by the board.

The other three are FGV chief financial officer Ahmad Tifli Mohd Talha, FGV Trading CEO Ahmad Salman Omar and Delima Oil Products senior general manager Kamarzaman Abd Karim.

The board’s decision came a day after Zakaria was told to resign by Isa following a series of board meetings since May 31 concerning delayed payments owed to Delima Oil Products Sdn Bhd by Safitex Trading LLC, an Afghan company with an array of businesses and headquartered in Du­­bai.

Zakaria subsequently urged the MACC to investigate allegations of improprieties in FGV and asked the commission to probe the parties behind the contracts.

Sources: The Star  by mazwin nik anis, he mananthini sivanandam, syed azhar

 

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Arrest decline in productivity and competitiveness in Malaysia


COINCIDENTLY, two major reports were released on June 1 on the decline of our national productivity and competitiveness. The first was our own Productivity Report 2016/2017, which was launched by Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad (pic) and the second one was the World Competitiveness Yearbook WCY issued by the Institute for Management Development.

This coincidence in decline is understandable since both productivity and competitiveness are closely inter-related. Lower productivity leads to lower international competitiveness.

Productivity

Our labour productivity fell short of our 11th Plan target of 3.7% growth by 0.2% to 3.5% last year. This is a small decline and has been rightly explained with confidence by the Minister of Trade in positive terms when he said that Malaysia was “on track”.

I think he will agree that we must be concerned enough to ask what are the causes and whether this is just a mere slip or could it be the beginning of a trend.

We have to take this fall as a wake up call, in case this decline happens again next year and later on. We have to review many recurrent and uncomfortable issues like brain drain and unemployed graduates – who could number over 200,000 – also reflect the low productivity of many graduates who are newly employed. The lower productivity can be attributed to our low use of automation, high employment of unskilled foreign and cheap labour and the new challenges of the digital economy.

The Minister’s proposal for the Government and private sector to “join forces to embark on initiatives” to improve productivity in nine sectors “of lower productivity”, is most welcome. The private sector has to make profit unlike the Government. Hence it has a greater sense of urgency in wanting to improve not only labour productivity but productivity from all factors of production, including good governance and integrity and quality services to the public. Thus it will be very interesting for the public to be made fully aware of the productivity improvements that should materialise not only in the private sector, but for the Government as well. For instance government departments can learn from the private sector how to provide better or excellent services in the fields of health and education and counter services at police stations, Customs, Immigration, etc .

Productivity in both the private sector and the government machinery should improve to raise our total national productivity. Only then will our nation be able to compete much more efficiently and effectively in the global economy.

We can have the best Productivity Blueprint like that which was launched on May 8 but our productivity can continue to slip and even slide, if we do not ensure that the blueprint is fully implemented and its progress diligently monitored and improved along the way. One way to seriously pursue our goal to raise productivity would be to increase the small sum of only RM200mil for a new Automation Fund. Modern machinery and equipment are expensive but the returns in terms of higher productivity can be very significant. So let’s go for higher productivity with greater automation and not approach the challenge on an ad hoc and piecemeal basis. The Treasury would need to support the Productivity Blueprint much more productively!

Competitiveness

Malaysia registered its lowest ranking in five years in the WCY.

This reflects our decline in productivity as competitiveness is the other side of the coin. However, I am surprised that the relationship is so sensitive. Just a drop of 0.2% in productivity can cause a drop in our international competitiveness ranking from 19th place to the 24th!

What this could show is that while we are sluggish in our productivity, other countries are much more aggressive in improving both their productivity and competitiveness.

There is thus no point in taking pride that we scored better in our ranking compared to the industrial countries like Austria (25th) Japan (26th) and Korea (29th). They are highly developed countries which enjoy much higher standards of living and a better quality of life that we do. They have reached the top of Mount Fuji and other mountains, while we are still climbing up from a lower economic base.

The drop in our competitiveness is significant and we have to take this decline very seriously. Malaysia slipped in all four sectors, that is, economic performance, business efficiency, government efficiency and infrastructure. That is why it is essential to investigate in depth into all these major falls in performance and tell the public what is being done to improve our rankings and ratings.

It is appreciated that Malaysia Productivity Corp’s Director General Datuk Mohd Razali Hussain has established Nine Working Cluster Groups to examine these poor indicators and report on improvements that must be made expeditiously.


Conclusion

It is good that we have these reports on productivity and international competitiveness to benchmark our national performance against them. We have to take advantage of these annual indicators and ensure that we keep improving rather than falling in productivity and competitiveness .

Our efforts to improve will be watched closely by our domestic and particularly international investors and international competitors .

We can only hope that these declines are not just coincidental but are also not developing declining trends. This could spell pessimism and falling confidence in our socio-economic management.

Instead we should take these set backs as warning signals and rededicate ourselves to a greater commitment to higher competition, more meritocracy and building a better socio-economic and political environment in Malaysia.

TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM

Chairman Asli’s Centre of Public Policy Studies


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Trump-Washington disorder drags world down, lost humanity’s fight for survival against climate change


IN Washington, the swamp Donald Trump is trying to drain is in tumult. The centres of the established order are fighting back against the elected president with a mandate who is doing what he wants.

On the one hand, there is a system of governance based on the rule of law which accords rights and limits the exercise of power. On the other, a president with a style of rule that transcends and challenges that order.

Whether it is working with the enemy, government by executive order, unrestrained authority in a centralised executive arm, president Trump who is already temperamentally in accord with it feels fully supported by those marginalised and on the periphery who had elected him. He sees it as a battle against the elites. Indeed, he increasingly depicts himself as a victim of the elites, especially the media.

The media wants him impeached. This is not going to happen – at least, not any time soon. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate would not have it. But Trump has to understand he cannot continually push at the boundaries and violate constitutional authority with impunity. If not Congress, the courts will have him.

Fired FBI director James Comey is expected to appear before the Senate to relate if Trump tried to influence investigation into links with Russia he and his aides forged during and after the election campaign. Already, a special counsel, Robert Mueller, has been appointed by the Attorney-General’s office to establish if there had been criminal violations in those links.

The American president is impetuous, sneering and always up for a fight. This is not the way to govern – anywhere.

He chops and changes. He does not use established institutions, even of the executive branch, like the State Department, which he wholly distrusts as a Hillary Clinton bastion.

There is conflict in Washington, not orderly governance. America is bitterly divided. Trump represents the other side. In this conflict, it is a strong incentive for Trump to ride on populist policies to attack his enemies in the swamp in Washington.

Both the disorder in Washington and particularly the populist policies – many of which are not properly thought through – also have an impact on the rest of the world.

It is difficult to know whom to deal with and which way policies may turn. His “America First” policies, like on climate change and on trade, harm and disregard other countries.

Small countries like Malaysia are down the list of his concerns. Yet we are on the list of 16 with whom the Trump administration claims America has trade deficits which are not tolerable.

The cut-off value of US$10 billion just manages to leave out Israel from the black list. What countries like Malaysia would like to know is what the United States proposes to do about it.

With respect to China, which tops the list with a whopping surplus of US$347 billion, Trump has eased from hanging tough to being pliable. No more talk of China as a serial currency manipulator and of slapping a 45% tariff on Chinese exports to America.

Last month the US entered into a so-called trade deal with China which encompassed a 100-day programme as part of a “comprehensive economic dialogue.” There is to be a 10-point action plan covering topics ranging from meat to financial services to biotechnology.

But American companies are dissatisfied, contending matters such as overcapacity, forced technology transfer and equal treatment of US companies should have been covered.

White House professionals in the National Economic Council and the US Trade Representative’s office say there is work in progress on Chinese steel, after which the administration would decide how to pursue the matters of subsidies and overcapacity – either through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or bilaterally.

This is an interesting twist. Trump does not have any time for the WTO. Yet with China, he might go for the multilateral approach rather than his favoured bilateral dealing.

The officials say they do not want a trade war. So perhaps some sobriety is sinking in.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc made haste to Washington this week – Vietnam is sixth in that list of 16 – and ended up with extravagant praise from Trump for the deals he entered into worth US$8bil (the prime minister claimed US$15bil), including US$3bil of US-produced content that would support 23,000 jobs. General Electric is the biggest beneficiary with deals worth US$5.58bil in power generation, aircraft engines and services.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pronounces Vietnam is the fastest growing market for US exports. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is deeply concerned about the rapid growth of the trade deficit with Vietnam (2016: US$32bil). Phuc gets the double squeeze in the firm handshake with President Trump. One must hope he knows where he stands at the end of his visit last Wednesday.

Phuc was the first Asean leader to visit Washington since Trump’s election as president. Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has not taken up Trump’s invitation. Neither has Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Apart from a report that the Vietnamese prime minister said he was waiting to welcome Trump to Danang for the Apec summit in November, and a statement he made expressing disappointment that America had withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, there has been no indication that anything pertaining to Asean had been raised – apart, of course, from Vietnam’s position on the South China Sea.

This is the way of Asean. National concerns and the national interest come first. There is not even some kind of debriefing or discussion on or before a visit of such import. Such a shame.

Perhaps Malaysia should take the lead and try to make a difference. As Trump will be coming for the Asean summits in Manila, including US-Asean and the EAS, would it not make sense to prepare a regional position paper on trade with the US?

We can leave the South China Sea issue pretty much alone as it divides more than unites Asean. But surely there must be consensus on free trade, as the AEC is founded very much on that principle.

Should not Asean take a common position on free trade in discussion with the American president? Not one based on generalities but on specifics and benefits, including to those on the supply chains (in terms of employment, revenue and taxes) before imports reach the US destination, not to mention the benefits to consumers in respect of choice, price and inflation.

Instead of just all the normal niceties, could not the leaders meeting incorporate a short, sharp presentation on the benefits of free trade to America and the costs to its economy of subsidy, support and inefficiency?

Already, it has been estimated about three quarters of job loss in America is attributable to employment displacement through technological development. Not through exports to America.

Everyone wants that 20 minutes with Trump. Asean should not fritter it away with amiable general chatter.

Of course, Malaysia has its own particular issues with the US which could be raised in a visit by the prime minister, perhaps at the end of the year or early next year.

By that time, of course, the 90-day “investigation” into the surpluses of countries on the list of 16 (Malaysia’s US$25bil puts it ninth on that list), which technically began on April 7, would have been completed.

There would be plenty to discuss then, even as bilateral representations would have been made at the working level before and after expiry of that period and whatever subsequent American actions.

Other issues, of course, are outstanding on which views can be exchanged, including on investment and technology. Hopefully, by that time, things would have settled down, that sense can be made out of the disorder in Washington.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

By Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

Continuing the climate battle, without the US

With President Trump pulling out from the Paris agreement, the US has lost membership of the community of nations that subscribe to humanity’s fight for survivial against climate change.

SO in the end President Donald Trump deci­ded to pull the United States out from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Just as disturbing as the withdrawal was Trump’s speech justifying it. He never acknowledged the seriousness or even the existence of the global climate change crisis, which poses the gravest threat to human survival. He lamented that the Paris accord would displace US jobs, mentioning coal in particular, while ignoring the jobs in renewable energy that would increase manifold if the United States tackled climate crisis seriously.

His main grouse was that the Paris agreement was “unfair” to the United States vis-a-vis other countries, especially mentioning China and India. And he grumbled that the United States would have to contribute to the Green Climate Fund.

The speech was riddled with misconceptions and factual errors.

For example, Trump said the Paris agreement would only produce a two-tenths of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100, a “tiny, tiny amount”.

But scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Trump badly misunderstood their study. “If we don’t do anything, we might shoot over five degrees or more and that would be catastrophic,” said MIT’s programme co-director John Reilly.

Condemnation came fast and furious from within the United States and around the world. Said John Kerry, former Secretary of State: “He’s made us an environmental pariah in the world … It may be the most self-defeating action in American history.”

The Trump decision to leave Paris may well be a milestone marking an immense loss to the United States of international prestige, influence and power.

In a world so divided by ideology, inequality and economic competition, the Paris agreement was one rare area of global consensus to cooperate, on climate change.

For the United States to pull out of that hard-won consensus is a shocking abdication not only of leadership, but of its membership of the community of nations in its joint effort to face its gravest threat to survival.

The lack of appreciation of this great challenge facing humanity and the narrow-mindedness of his concerns was embarrassingly evident when Trump made his withdrawal speech.

He was more interested in reviving the sunset coal sector than in the promise of the fast-developing renewable energy industries.

He was convinced reducing emissions would cost millions of jobs, ignoring the record of other countries that have decoupled emissions growth from economic growth.

He was miserly towards poor countries which are receiving only a fraction of what they were promised for climate action, while celebrating hundreds of billions of dollars of new armaments deals.

He complained that the United States is asked to do more than others, when in fact the nation has the highest emissions per ca­pita of any major country and its pledges are significantly lower than Europe’s.

He saw the speck in everyone else’s eyes while being oblivious to the beam in his own.

With or without the United States, the negotiations on how to implement the agreement will continue in the years ahead.

A complication is that America has to wait four years before the announced withdrawal can come into effect.

The United States will still be a member of the Paris agreement for the rest of Trump’s present term, although he announced he will not implement what Barack Obama had committed to, which is to cut emissions by 26%-28% from 2005 levels, by 2025. This defiance will likely have a depressing impact on other countries.

While a member, the United States could play a non-cooperative or disruptive role du­ring the negotiations on many topics.

Since Trump has already made clear the United States wants to leave the pact, and no longer subscribes to its emissions pledges, nor will it meet its US$3bil (RM12.8bil) pledge on the Green Climate Fund, it would be strange to enable the country to still negotiate with the same status as other members that remain committed to their pledges.

How to deal with this issue is important so that the United Nations Framework Conven­tion on Climate Change negotiations are not disrupted in the four years ahead.

Finally, Trump’s portrayal of developing countries like India and China as profiting from the US membership of the Paris Agreement is truly unfair.

China is the number one emitter of carbon dioxide in absolute terms, with the United States second and India third. But this is only because the two developing countries have huge populations of over a billion each.

In per capita terms, in 2015, carbon dioxide emissions were 16.1 tonnes for the United States, 7.7 tonnes for China and 1.9 tonnes for India.

It would be unfair to ask China and India to have the same mitigation target as America, especially since the United States has had the benefit of using or over-using more than its fair share of cheap fossil-fuel energy for over a century more than the other two countries.

A recent New York Times editorial (May 22) compared the recent performance of India and China with the recent actions of the United States under President Trump.

It states: “Until recently, China and India have been cast as obstacles … in the battle against climate change. That reputation looks very much out of date now that both countries have greatly accelerated their investments in cost-effective renewable energy sources – and reduced their reliance on fossil fuels. It’s America – Donald Trump’s America – that now looks like the laggard.”

President Trump has taken the United States and the world many big steps backwards in the global fight against global warming. It will take some time for the rest of the world to figure out how to carry on the race without or despite the United States.

Hopefully the absence of America will only be for four years or less.

By Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Anger as Trump announces US withdrawal from global climate deal

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced America’s shock withdrawal from the Paris climate accord Thursday, prompting a furious global backlash and throwing efforts to slow global warming into serious doubt.

In a sharply nationalistic address from the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced the United States would immediately stop implementing the “bad” 195-nation accord.

“I cannot, in good conscience, support a deal that punishes the United States,” he said, decrying the “draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

Trump repeatedly painted the pact — struck by his predecessor Barack Obama — as a deal that did not “put America first” and was too easy on economic rivals China, India and Europe.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said. “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be.”

Trump offered no details about how, or when, a formal withdrawal would happen, and at one point suggested a renegotiation could take place.

“We’re getting out but we’ll start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine,” he said.

That idea was unceremoniously slapped down by furious allies in Europe, who joined figures from around the United States and the world in condemning the move.

“The agreement cannot be renegotiated,” France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement.

Worst polluters

The United States is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, so Trump’s decision could seriously hamper efforts to cut emissions and limit global temperature increases.

Amid Trump’s domestic critics was Obama, who said the United States was “joining a handful of nations that reject the future.”

Nicaragua and Syria are the only countries not party to the Paris accord, the former seeing it as not ambitious enough and the latter being racked by a brutal civil war.

Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in last year’s White House race, called the decision to pull out a “historic mistake.”

“The world is moving forward together on climate change. Paris withdrawal leaves American workers & families behind,” she said in a tweet.

The Democratic governors of New York, California and Washington states formed a quick alliance, vowing to respect the standards agreed on under the Paris deal.

In New York, some major buildings, like the World Trade Center and City Hall, were lit green in solidarity with the climate agreement, echoing a move in Paris.

With much of the implementation of the accord taking place at the local level, the Paris accord’s supporters hope the deal will be in hibernation rather than killed off entirely.

Trump’s decision is likely to play well with the Republican base, with the more immediate damage on the diplomatic front.

The US president called his counterparts in Britain, Canada, France and Germany to explain his decision.

But traditional US allies were uncharacteristically blunt in their condemnation of the move, which comes amid already strained relationships with the hard-charging president.

Germany said the US was “harming” the entire planet, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called the decision “seriously wrong.”


Trump the showman

Ever the showman, the 70-year-old Trump had given his decision a reality TV-style tease, refusing to indicate his preference either way until his announcement.

Opponents of withdrawal — said to include Trump’s daughter Ivanka — had warned that America’s leadership role on the world stage was at stake, along with the environment.

A dozen large companies including oil major BP, agrochemical giant DuPont, Google, Intel and Microsoft, had urged Trump to remain in the deal.

Ultimately, the lobbying by Trump’s environmental protection chief Scott Pruitt and chief strategist Steve Bannon urging the president to leave won out.

In the wake of the announcement, Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Disney chief Robert Iger announced they would no longer take part in presidential business councils.

“Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” Musk said.

GE head Jeff Immelt said he was “disappointed” with the decision: “Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”

‘Morally criminal’

White House officials acknowledged that under the deal, formal withdrawal may not take place until after the 2020 election.

Hours ahead of Trump’s announcement, China’s Premier Li Keqiang pledged to stay the course on implementing the climate accord in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and urged other countries to do likewise.

China has been investing billions in clean energy infrastructure, as it battles to clear up the choking pollution enveloping its cities.

China and the US are responsible for some 40 percent of the world’s emissions and experts had warned it was vital for both to remain in the Paris agreement if it is to succeed.

The leader of Asia’s other behemoth, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who is due to visit the White House shortly — has said failing to act on climate change would be “morally criminal.”

Trump’s announcement comes less than 18 months after the climate pact was adopted in the French capital, the fruit of a hard-fought agreement between Beijing and Washington under Obama’s leadership.

The Paris Agreement commits signatories to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, which is blamed for melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels and more violent weather events.

They vowed steps to keep the worldwide rise in temperatures “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times and to “pursue efforts” to hold the increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Sources: Andrew Beatty | AFP


Related links

Analysis: Trump tilts ‘America First’ toward ‘America Alone’ – AP News

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