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Malaysia's Proton asks for more protection: report

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 (AFP) - Malaysia's national carmaker Proton has asked the government for 20 additional years of tariff protection, it was reported Thursday.

Proton chief executive Mahaleel Ariff made the request in a letter to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last month, the Asian Wall Street Journal said, citing industry sources.

Mahaleel also requested immediate exemption from all import duties and excise taxes, and asked for government grants for research and development, the newspaper said, adding the government had not yet responded.

Under the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement aimed at liberalizing the auto sector, tariffs on imported cars in Southeast Asia fell below five percent in January but Malaysia has obtained a reprieve for its auto industry until 2005.

Nevertheless, the government proposed during the 2004 Budget in September to impose excise duties on imported cars when the import duties on these vehicles are reduced from January 1, 2004.

Critics said the move was aimed at evading AFTA and protecting Proton, which is already feeling the heat. Sales dropped 10 percent last year to 239,783 and further in the first half this year.
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