Getting Malaysia off the United States' "trade cheats" list and kick-starting talks on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) will be among the issues on the cards as American and Malaysian officials meet in Washington this week.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who is in town to accompany Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on his working visit here, will be holding separate discussions with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
In March, the United States labelled 16 countries as "trade cheats" that had caused it to face a trade deficit of almost US$50bil (RM209bil). Malaysia is included in the list.
International Trade and Industry Ministry officials said the visit would be an opportunity for Malaysia to explain the trade data discrepancy recorded, and that Malaysia's contribution to the US trade deficit in goods in 2016 was only 3.37 per cent.
According to statistics, Malaysia has enjoyed a trade surplus with the United States since 1990.
"The United States has said that Malaysia is one of those countries that has trade surplus with it and from their point (of view), that is a 'trade cheat'.
"If everybody is going to have a trade surplus, then who is going to have a trade deficit?" asked an official.
Trade between Malaysia and the United States increased by 20.3 per cent between January and July this year, amounting to RM93.77bil, over the corresponding period last year. Exports grew by 11.1 per cent and imports went up by 33.1 per cent during the period.
A senior ministry official said the working visit by Najib was an opportunity not to be missed to find ways to grow bilateral trade.
Last week, Najib also announced that Malaysia and the United States may look into forging a bilateral trade arrangement following the United States' pullout from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.
"There is a possibility for us to look into a bilateral trade arrangement. The present administration (of the United States) prefers a bilateral trade arrangement, as opposed to a multilateral one," he said.
Both countries started negotiations for a bilateral FTA in 2006 which were halted in 2008 following Malaysia's decision to join the TPP negotiations.