The parliament on Wednesday night gave the go-ahead for the Maldives to sign a free trade agreement with the government of China, and officially ended its third term of this year.
The parliament had scheduled two “special” sittings on Wednesday at short notice to vote on the free trade agreement with China. The government had submitted the proposal in the afternoon session, which was forwarded to the Committee on National Security for review. The voting took place at the sitting held later that night and it was passed unanimously by the 30 lawmakers who attended the sitting.
None of the opposition MPs were present at the vote.
It has surfaced that the national security committee, which had reviewed the proposal behind closed doors, had approved it in just 30 minutes without much evaluation. Over 500 documents were submitted to the parliament for the “Free Trade Agreement Between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of the Maldives”. However, the committee’s final report did not specify whether each member had individually evaluated all the points of the agreement.
According to the report, economic minister Mohamed Saeed and other officials of the ministry had met with the committee and discussed the free trade agreement. The report added that the committee had also referred to the documents prepared by the ministry regarding the agreement.
The rushed way in which such a “major pact” was passed by the committee, the majority of whom are lawmakers of the ruling coalition, and by the parliament, has brought the government under fire from the opposition.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed tweeted later that night that the free trade agreement with China “will be detrimental to our economy as balance of trade is greatly in favour of China.” He added that such a pact must be in the best interest of the Maldivian people.
However, economic minister Saeed had declared earlier that the agreement would be an incredible boost to the fisheries industry and tourism sector. He maintained that it would open the doors for the Maldives to trade fish products in the “world’s biggest consumer market” without duty.
The Maldives has also concluded free trade talks with Hong Kong while invitations to sign free trade agreements have been extended to the US, UK, European Union and Japan. The free trade deal with China, and then Hong Kong, will mark the first time for the Maldives to enter into such an agreement with an individual country. Previously the island nation entered into a regional agreement with South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), which includes all the SAARC countries.
The parliament officially ended its third term with Wednesday night’s session and commenced its two-month recess. Sittings will resume in February 2018.