Opposition MDP says free trade pact would “sell off” Maldives to China

The Maldives’ main opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has claimed that the Maldives-China free trade agreement (FTA) is a pact that would ultimately “sell off” the archipelago to China, the Mihaaru reported.

At a rally at MDP’s main hub on Sunday night to object to the signing of the FTA with China, MDP’s deputy leader Mohamed Shifaz said the FTA would open the doors for any business in China to export goods to the Maldives at any time, and to make any kind of investment in the Maldives. He claimed that, as a result, Maldivians would lose their trades and businesses to the Chinese from the moment the FTA comes into effect.
Speaking at the assembly via video call, former president Mohamed Nasheed declared that with the FTA, Chinese products would come to dominate the Maldivian markets.

Nasheed, who is currently in neighbouring Sri Lanka, explained that prices of products imported from China would drop as the Maldivian government would not charge any duty from them as per the FTA. Thus imports from China would naturally increase, he said, which would see imported goods from other markets go down in the Maldives.

Nasheed said Maldives-China trade statistics since 2008 available with the Maldives Customs Services show that the balance of payment between the two countries is lopsided and absolutely in the advantage of China.

 2008: Maldives imported goods worth MVR 374 million from China; exported goods worth MVR 3,300 to China
 2009: Maldives imported MVR 328 million from China; no exports to China
 2010: Maldives imported over MVR 400 million from China; exported MVR 8 million to China
 2011: Maldives imported MVR 1 billion from China; exported MVR 400,000 to China
 2012: Maldives imported MVR 1 billion from China; exported MVR 59 million to China
 2013: Maldives imported MVR 1.2 billion from China; exported MVR 2 million to China
 2014: Maldives imported MVR 1.6 billion from China; exported MVR 1.2 million to China
 2015: Maldives imported MVR 2.2 billion from China; exported MVR 500,000 to China

Though Customs has not released the statistics of the previous year yet, Nasheed claimed that the Maldives had imported goods worth MVR 4.3 billion from China in 2016. Highlighting that the Maldives does not make much profit from its trade with China, he went on to allege that the relatively large amount of goods exported to China in 2012 was either a mistake in the statistics or a deliberate deception.

Nasheed’s sentiment was echoed by MDP member and lawmaker of Gan constituency, Fayyaz Ismail. He proclaimed that signing the free trade pact with China would “shatter” the Maldives’ bilateral trade relations with other countries.

Fayyaz claimed that the Maldives would have to turn to China for the bulk of its imports, which would give China the power to stamp any price it sees fit on its goods.

He added that ultimately China would have the final say on all decisions that affect the Maldives’ foreign policy and sovereignty.

The speakers at the MDP rally also voiced concern over all the “secrecy” surrounding the FTA. They said that their biggest concern is that the government has not shared the particulars of the FTA with the parliament, business associations or any local businesses.

Shifaz announced that the joint opposition has started to evaluate the FTA agreement with China, which reportedly has over 1,000 pages. Claiming that all their current findings indicate that the agreement would “sell off the Maldives to China”, Shifaz vowed that the opposition coalition would reveal all the details of the FTA to the public as transparently as possible.

Meanwhile the state owned Chinese daily the Global Times in its Oped page on Sunday said that India will “do nothing but upset itself” if it tries to prevent closer trade ties between China and the Maldives.

Ruling PPM lawmakers hurriedly approving the Maldives-China Free Trade Agreement at a special sitting of the Majlis within 30 minutes on 29 November

The parliamentary national security committee had reviewed the proposal of the “Free Trade Agreement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of the Maldives” behind closed doors and had approved it in just 30 minutes last Wednesday. Later that night, the parliament had taken a vote on the FTA proposal, which was only attended by lawmakers of the ruling coalition. The FTA proposal was passed unanimously by the 30 lawmakers present at the special sitting.

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