The MDP is Concerned over Free Trade Agreement with China

29 November, Male: The Maldivian Democratic Party is deeply concerned over sudden and rushed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, without any disclosure of details to the public or to the MPs.

On 29 November, the Speaker of Parliament called for an emergency sitting, to pass the FTA with China. The Agreement was sent to the Parliamentary oversight committee on national security affairs within 3 minutes of submission to the floor. The Committee vetting the Agreement took less than 10 minutes. The Committee was conducted against Parliamentary procedures and norms, with deliberations closed off for the public and to the media. Despite requests, the MPs were not given access to the document in order to review it before passing. The Government allowed for less than 1 hour for the entire Parliamentary process to approve the 1000+ page document. The Agreement contained a number of technical details that should have been thoroughly reviewed, and required consultation with the business community. The Agreement was approved with just 30 votes, in another late evening session of the Parliament.

The MDP notes that the Attorney General of the Maldives had advised corresponding legislation for the Agreement to be legally binding. The Constitution requires 43 attending to pass legislation on this, and the Government does not have the required votes. The FTA cannot be implemented until the legislation is passed.

The MDP is deeply alarmed that the Yameen Government is entering a trade deal that will have immense economic repercussions on the Maldivian economy. Information of the agreement has not been circulated to the public, and there has been no information that a feasibility was done or the Agreement was even discussed with the President’s own cabinet. The MDP raises questions on the rushed Parliamentary process, Government’s unwillingness to disclose information and why the deal had to be shrouded in such secrecy.

Trade balance remains considerably in favour of China, and the MDP is therefore concerned that the FTA will further increase the deficit. We are also deeply concerned that further entrenchment of the country into a Chinese debt trap will result in additional stress on strategic national assets and increasing instability in the Indian Ocean region.

The MDP believes that for the FTA to be feasible for the Maldivian economy in the long- run, it will have to bring drastic changes to trade between the countries, and significantly increase Maldives’ access to the Chinese market and gradually reduce its trade deficit towards the much larger economy. Moreover, given that the Government of Maldives stands accused of unprecedented levels of corruption, and given President Yameen’s catastrophic economic policies thus far, the government’s evasive behavior on any projects courting foreign trade or investment adds to public consternation.

Given the drastic increase in foreign trade debt to China this Agreement is likely to bring, the MDP is concerned the FTA is a short-sighted, political agreement between the two countries.

The MDP calls on the Government of Maldives to suspend the implementation of the FTA until a proper feasibility study is conducted to ensure the Agreement is in the best interest of the Maldives both economically and also to ensure the Agreement does not place Maldives in a geo- politically vulnerable position.