KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 (Xinhua) -- Officials from participating countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) gathered in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu on Monday for the 18th round of negotiations, as they rush to the deadline set by their leaders to wrap up the free trade agreement by the end of the year.
The negotiations due to end on July 25 will also see Japan participating in the talks for the first time.
Malaysia's International Trade and Industry Ministry said a half-day session for stakeholders was arranged on the midway of the meetings, in which chief negotiators of TPP countries will brief more than 180 parties, including 51 from Malaysia representing different interest groups, on the status of negotiations.
"The objective of the program is to allow stakeholders to present their views and concerns," the ministry said in a statement.
The secret negotiations of TPP, which currently involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam, has triggered concerns and opposition in Malaysia, as politicians, business communities worries the deal would affect the ill-prepared indigenous business.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mahamad has been outspoken against TPP, alleging that his country will be on the losing side of the agreement.
In an article posted on his blog on Friday, Mahathir said TPP "is another attempt by American to let their huge corporations penetrate the domestic markets of the small countries, in particular government procurements."
Mahathir, Malaysia's longest serving Prime Minister, called for more transparency regarding the TPP negotiations, saying the deadline should be ignored.
Mahathir also argued that China should be included in the negotiations.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been an active advocator for the trade deal despite concerns within his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). He announced Japan's participation in TPP negotiations shortly after taking office in December last year, and a likely victory for LDP in the upper house election on July 21 would potentially enable him to push through the trade agreement.
Abe is due to start visit to Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore on July 25, his third trip to Southeast Asia since he took office.