Malaysia, Turkey aim to conclude free-trade deal

Malaysia, Turkey aim to conclude free-trade deal

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - Agence France-Presse
Malaysia, Turkey aim to conclude free-trade deal

Visiting Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak shake hands after signing a memorandum of understanding in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur Jan. 10. REUTERS photo

Malaysia and Turkey pledged Jan. 10 to wrap up a free-trade deal this year as embattled Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prepared to return home to a political crisis.

Erdoğan met with his host, Malaysian premier Najib Razak, on the final day of a week-long trip that earlier took him to Japan and Singapore.

During his Asia visit, Erdoğan has avoided comment on the Turkish political maelstrom that first erupted in December when dozens of leading businessmen and political figures were detained in a corruption probe whose targets include the sons of three ex-ministers.

Erdoğan's government has responded to the widening investigation by moving to root out political foes in the police and judiciary in a purge that has seen hundreds of police personnel relocated.

Energy and automotive sector

Erdoğan did not take questions during a press briefing with Najib that focused on a joint pledge to finalise a free-trade deal by April and lift trade between the two majority-Muslim countries to $5 billion in five years.

"There are countless opportunities we can seize," Erdoğan said, listing cooperation in energy, the automotive sector and infrastructure as possibilities. 

Bilateral trade was $918 million in January-October 2013, Najib said.

Malaysia and Turkey first began discussing a free-trade deal in 2009, according to Malaysia's government, but previous targeted completion dates have been missed.

The graft scandal in Turkey is one of tha major crisis to occur in Erdoğan's 11 years in power. The Turkish prime minister describes the investigation a plot to topple his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

But critics have labelled his response a desperate attempt to protect cronies caught up in the probe of alleged bribery in construction projects and illicit money transfers by the state-owned Halkbank to sanctions-hit Iran.

After their press conference, Erdoğan and Najib were to attend Friday prayers together. Erdoğan was scheduled to depart Malaysia for the trip home late Jan. 10.