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Proton is expected to announce its strategic partnership agreement with a foreign partner in the first quarter of next year, The Sun reports. The national carmaker is expected to cement the deal on March 31, 2017.

According to deputy international trade and industry minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan, the national carmaker has narrowed the partner shortlist down to three, and is in the process of carrying out an in-depth evaluation of these to pick the most suitable to work with.

He said Proton had issued request for proposals to 14 car manufacturers in June, and in September the company announced that it had identified five potential strategic partners. Earlier reports had intimated that PSA Group, Renault and Suzuki were among interested parties seeking to buy into Proton.

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Saying it was important to have a foreign partner to manufacture cars, Ahmad said the upcoming partnership agreement will provide the automaker with a much needed lift. “This will help spur Proton’s research and development, enabling it to become a viable and competitive carmaker at the international level,” he said.

Earlier this year, the national carmaker received a soft loan of RM1.5 billion from the government, which came with several conditions that needed to be met, and one of these was the need to identify a foreign partner. Additionally, a strategic plan to increase its share of the domestic market, as well as to penetrate into international markets, was also required.

No details of the upcoming partnership have been revealed, including that of what percentage the foreign stake will be. Previously, DRB-Hicom said that it will continue to hold a ‘strategic stake’ in Proton, even with a foreign partner in the picture.