The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which had been signed between Maldives and China in 2017, during the Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom administration, but had languished with no active engagement during the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih administration, is ready to be implemented soon, President Mohamed Muizzu said Tuesday.

The President, while speaking at the Invest Maldives Forum in Fuzhou, China, said that the FTA symbolises the close trade relations between the two countries, highlighting that this was the first free trade agreement signed by China with a South Asian country.

“The objective of the FTA which is to increase trade relations between the two countries, especially domestic fish products exported to China, is our priority under this agreement. My administration is ready to implement this agreement soon,” Muizzu said.

The FTA, was heavily criticised by the then in opposition, more India centric, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) when the Yameen administration was in office, thus choosing to forgo implementing it or any major agreements with China, once the MDP led administration took office in 2018.

The FTA was initiated when a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish an FTA was signed, on 18 December 2014, during a visit to China by President Yameen. Then, on 29 November 2017, a Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) majority parliament approved the FTA despite heavy dissent from the opposition MDP. On 7 December 2017, the FTA was signed during Yameen’s visit to China.

On 15 December 2017, the opposition announced that the FTA will be disavowed under their prospective government, while on 10 January 2018, the Indian legislature expressed concern over the Maldives-China agreement.

Then, on 19 November 2018, just two days after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s MDP-led administration took office, the Maldives government decided to disavow the FTA with the then Speaker of Parliament, Mohamed Nasheed — heavily entrenched within the MDP leadership at the time — confirming as such to international media sources.

On 21 November 2018, China called on the Maldives to hasten the implementation of the FTA.

Then, on 7 October 2020, as the pandemic waned, the then Maldives’ Minister of Finance, went on record as saying the FTA was not beneficial to the Maldives. However, on 11 October 2020, the administration back stepped their stance slightly with the then Minister of Economic Development stating the agreement would not be implemented without a review.

Finally, on 8 January 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called, once again, on the Maldives to hasten implementation of the FTA agreement.