Posted at 1:10 a.m. PST Sunday, December 14, 1997 Malaysia, U.S. still at odds on financial agreement KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Malaysia Sunday stuck to financial regulations despite implicit U.S. threats to impose sanctions over them. Malaysia refused to budge from an offer it made under the financial services agreement concluded at the World Trade Organization in Geneva on the weekend: a maximum 51 percent ownership of local financial institutions by foreign firms. The U.S. demands unlimited foreign ownership. The issue particularly affects American International Assurance (AIA), a wholly owned Malaysian subsidiary of U.S. insurance company American International Group (AIG). A spokesman for Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim told Reuters that Malaysia would stand firm on its offer, and that AIG would have to divest 49 percent of its equity in AIA. ``At this time our offer stands at 51 percent on new and current companies,'' said Anwar's press secretary, Adlin Zabri. When asked if this meant that AIG would have to divest the 49 percent stake, Adlin replied, ``Yes, yes.'' U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said Saturday the U.S. would seek improvements in some countries' offers under the deal. Barshefsky said countries such as Malaysia that forced divestiture of existing rights in the insurance sector would be ``carved out'' from U.S. obligations under the pact. That means the U.S. would be able to impose sanctions on Malaysia if it forced the U.S. insurance company to divest those holdings. ``This practice of forced divestiture is unacceptable,'' Barshefsky said of Malaysia. When the WTO deal was concluded on Saturday negotiators said it would help investor confidence by bringing financial services, fastest growing sector of the world economy, under WTO rules -- meaning that states breaking their commitments can be taken to its dispute settlement system. When enacted in March 1999, it would provide the big Western multinationals with guaranteed if phased access to most developing economies, increasing capital flows and improving the quality of their industries by injecting competition. Anwar, who is also finance minister said in a statement faxed to Reuters on Sunday that Malaysia was satisfied with the outcome of the talks, and that the government ``remained committed to the principle of progressive liberalization as inscribed in the WTO.'' He added that Malaysia's offer to the WTO had ``contained substantial improvements to its 1995 offer.'' ``These include (a) binding 51 percent majority ownership for the original foreign owners of locally incorporated insurance companies,'' said Anwar. Other offers include allowing a higher number of expatriate personnel in ``several categories of financial services and...committing to issue new licences in the reinsurance subsectors,'' he said. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told a business conference on Saturday that the 51 percent ceiling which Malaysia had proposed at global talks in Geneva would apply to all foreign insurers. ``We are now prepared to allow 51 percent foreign ownership. We are not willing to have 100 percent foreign-owned companies, foreign-owned banks, foreign-owned insurance companies,'' he said. ``The U.S. insists that it is 100 percent foreign owned. We are insisting on this 51 percent. We are not giving in although we have softened a bit,'' Mahathir added. Trade superpowers and developing countries concluded the landmark deal in the early hours of Saturday to clear away international barriers to the expansion of banking, insurance and securities industries. The agreement is scheduled to be ratified by the end of January 1999 and go into force by March of that year. )1997 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.
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