Maldives parliament gives green light to China free trade pact

The government controlled parliament on Wednesday gave the green light for the government to sign the free trade agreement with China, hours after it was submitted.

Speaker Abdulla Maseeh had called in an emergency parliament session to accept the agreement before immediately sending it for the national security committee for review. The committee also with government majority had signed off on the agreement in less than 10 minutes sparking opposition outrage and concern saying that lawmakers "had not even seen the actual agreement."

Thirty lawmakers present during the late Wednesday sitting voted in favour of signing the agreement, with most government MPs echoing the benefits of the pact to the archipelago.

Speaking to reporters after the cabinet gave the go ahead to sign the agreement earlier Wednesday, economic minister Mohamed Saeed had said the agreement would provide a huge boost to the Maldives highlighting the fisheries sector as the primary beneficiary.

"The door has been opened to export our fish products to the largest consumer market in the world on zero percent [duty]," Saeed enthused.

The minister insisted that the agreement has been designed to favour the Maldives more than China.

"... this could very well be the first time in history that such a large market has agree to deal with a small country and that too to largely favour and benefit us," he added.

When asked when the agreement would be signed, foreign minister Dr Mohamed Asim said the legal protocols that need to be followed would take time.

"In truth, signing a free trade agreement with a country would take considerable time," Asim said.

Maldives and China entered into free trade talks in 2014 and had held four rounds of discussions.

Maldives is seeking tax exemption from all food and seafood products exported from the archipelago to China, which according to the government includes over 400 local products currently in the market.

China had also conducted research earlier this year into the potential advantages of entering such a deal with the island nation.

Government had announced plans to sign the agreement in June this year.

Maldives and Hong Kong are also engaged in talks to establish a similar agreement.

The free trade deal with China will mark the first time Maldives to enter into such an agreement with an individual country.

The island nation had earlier entered a regional agreement with South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) which includes all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries.

The government had also announced plans to initiate more bilateral free trade agreements with nations including the US, UK, Japan and the European Union (EU).