Malaysia welcomes China's bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact that groups together Malaysia and 10 other countries, the official news agency Bernama has reported.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry said in a statement to Bernama dated Sunday that it is "encouraged" by China's interest in the free trade deal and that negotiations with China could start in 2022 at the earliest.

"With the ongoing domestic efforts setting Malaysia right on track towards ratification and the possible commencement of China's accession negotiations with the CPTPP membership next year, MITI is confident that bilateral trade and investment ties between Malaysia and China will grow to greater heights in the near future," the ministry said.

The free trade pact is known formally as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

China, the world's second-biggest economy, filed an application to join the pact Thursday in an apparent bid to increase its clout in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States withdrew from the initiative in 2017 before it took effect the following year.

It would need the unanimous approval of all 11 member countries to join the pact. Besides Malaysia, the TPP involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Japan, a leading economy in the grouping, has said it will carefully analyze whether China is ready to fulfill the high-standard rules required of a member country.

Bernama quoted a senior MITI official as saying that Malaysia is on track to ratify the trade pact pending the green light from the Cabinet.

The official said he expects the Cabinet to make a final decision by the end of the first quarter of 2022.