What new initiatives is MATRADE currently involved in?
SUM: MATRADE is the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation and, as the name implies, we work on trade, and we promote trade. We are currently involved in initiatives with Singapore, UKTI, and so on. In the context of trade, MATRADE’s new initiative is to engage with people in emerging markets, particularly now that the financial climate and the economic situation seems to be very challenging and difficult. At the moment, everyone is targeting the emerging markets, which have become very competitive. Thus, we are trying to make sure that our exporters can continue to do business outside. Our businessmen and our manufacturers have raised their plate a little bit more and we are able to sustain ourselves above water. In essence, the initiatives in which we are involved are not that new. Our aim remains that of searching niche markets and finding new friends in the old markets.
Considering the recent turbulent economic climate in western markets, what are Malaysian exporters doing to remain competitive?
SUM: First of all, 70% of Malaysia’s trade is with Asia. ASEAN itself accounts for 27% of Malaysia’s total trade and that is primarily exports. We do have stable markets in Asia, but Asia itself caters for the rest of the world too. When the rest of the world gets to be affected and the Euro zone is still not coming back to normality, we prefer to take a very cautious view in order for the Asian market to keep its steady level of growth. We try to make sure that, when people look for goods, we do not just supply goods, but we do so with a smile and good service. We continue to sustain our relationships and preserve our linkages with them. This is one of the things that we do to support relationships. We are Asians and we believe in relationships.
Which countries are Malaysia’s top trading partners within Asia? And what are the most interesting emerging markets for MATRADE?
SUM: Malaysia’s top trading partners are China, which is the top for many Asian countries; Singapore, which is another of the top trading nations; Japan; Korea; and Hong Kong, which we consider a different sovereign state. Other top trading partners are the 9 countries within ASEAN, which account for 27% of that 70% of trade within the Asian region. The most interesting markets for us are Russia, Latin America, Central Asia, and spots such as Mexico, and the Caribbean. We are still looking at these areas.
With regard to the ETP and Malaysia’s macro-economic goals, Malaysia’s current objective is to increase the value-add and to move from a resource led economy to a service led economy. How is this change reflected in Malaysia’s trade?
SUM: The ETP has strengthened our trade goals. We are moving towards developed country status in 2020 and by 2020 our trade must come up to double the value of what we had in 2010. We are looking at the situation where we will be able to produce higher value goods and our exports of services will definitely surpass the others and grow much faster than the import of services. That is our goal for 2020.
What are the major challenges facing Malaysia when it comes to trade?
SUM: Everybody has challenges. I think that Malaysia’s biggest challenge, at the moment, is to produce that value on goods. This can only be achieved with people’s talent, which is one of our greatest assets, but also one of our lacking points. If you want to be so ambitious to produce that kind of value in exports and trade, then you need to have that same level of industry that generates high value exports. So, the talent is very important, as well as the human capital, which represents in itself a real challenge. Another major challenge that concerns Malaysia is technology. Malaysia has for the longest time been dependent on a resource based economy. We developed our own technologies and skills. For example, we are in the forefront of rubber research and even palm oil, but we need to go even further. Today, we talk about green rubber and recycled rubber products that can be as good as the original type of rubber products. If you look at things such as palm oil – and we are not talking about cooking oil, but about very high quality oil with special fats - Malaysia is one of the top producers in the world and within the confectionery industry. In the electrical and electronic industry, we spent 30 years producing products without developing our own skills and capabilities. Today, however, we have a Malaysian company, called EMS, which stands for Electrical Mechanical Services, which produces optical readers as well as re-designing chips, instead of just making chips. So, we do have areas where we have the right expertise and skills, but we still need to grow. Only in this way will we be able to achieve higher goals. Of course, there is also the question about perception. The perception that people have of Malaysia is that we produce low quality products, but this is not true. Many have not looked behind the TV sets to see that the very machine they have is made in Malaysia. Neither do they open up the computer to see that the chip inside is made in Malaysia and it is exactly the same for the phones, and iPhones, the cameras, the memory devices, and so on. So, it is all about perception and it is through winning that war against perception that people will understand that it does not matter where a device is made, because it can still be of the greatest quality.
First of all, 70% of Malaysia’s trade is with Asia. ASEAN itself accounts for 27% of Malaysia’s total trade and that is primarily exports.
What are the best investment opportunities available in Malaysia?
SUM: I would like Malaysia to be perceived as a country with many virtues. We have value propositions in terms of investments into the country, partnerships outside the country, and we are able to export quality products and services. I just want people to rethink of Malaysia as a quality proposition. Investing in Malaysia is something that you will never regret. More than anything else, everyone should be aware that Malaysia is a very friendly place, everybody here can speak English, and we all love doing business with the rest of the world.