Your Excellencies and distinguished guests.
Thank you for inviting me to this session of yourforum on Malaysia’s relations with Arab nations.
We have always regarded the Arab countries as our strategic trade and investment partners and this forum gives us an opportunity to forge closer business links between Malaysian and Arabentrepreneurs.
The global economy is facing very challenging times. Sluggish growth in the United States and a worsening debt crisis in the Eurozone suggest that we need to be prudent in managing our economic affairs.
The coming months will therefore test our economic resilience to the fullest. Let us, therefore, intensify our trade and investment engagement so that we can minimize the impact of the global economic slowdown on our countries. We need to build on our strengths and find ways to sustain the momentum of our own economic growth.
Allow me to share with you an overview of how Malaysia is positioned to do business with the Arab world. In the past, Malaysia’s economy was driven by manufacturing and the export of commodities. Over the last two decades, we have expanded and diversified our economy, and are now focussed on developing more high value and capital-intensive manufacturing industries.
Our strategic geographical location has also enabled us to serve as the gateway to Asia for Arab businesses.
For your information, we recovered quickly from the economic slowdown of 2009. Our economy grew by 5.1 per cent last year. And we are confident we will do just as well, if not better, this year.
Our manufacturing sector continues to attract foreign investment. Our focus has expanded and we are on the lookout for quality investments in the services sector.
Last year, the Government opened up 17 services sub-sectors to foreign equity participation. Foreigners can now own up to 100% of businesses in sectors such as telecommunications, private higher education, international schools and private hospitals services. This should pique your interest.
On the trading front, our trade with Arab countries increased four-fold over the last ten years, topping US$17.6 billion in 2011. However, this trade is confined to a narrow range of products. Our main exports were palm oil, electrical & electronic products and chemical & chemical products. Petroleum & petroleum products constitute our main imports from the Arab region. Thus there is a lot of room for us to improve our trade mix.
There are also other industries where Malaysian companies can provide you with competitive products and services - such as halal food and services, oil and gas equipment and services, building materials, pharmaceuticals and healthcare services, including medical tourism. These are some of the areas I urge you to explore during your business matching sessions which have been scheduled for this afternoon.
It is heartening to note that investments into Malaysia from Arab countries, especially from the Gulf region, have been growing. Major investments are coming from Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. These investments are mainly in real estate, shopping malls, hotels, financial services and healthcare services.
Conversely, Malaysian companies are also investing abroad. Malaysian companies have established a strong presence in the Arab region. Companies such as IJM Construction, WCT Engineering, Eversendai Engineering and Malaysia Airports Holding have built a strong reputation in the construction of ports, airports, road and highways, bridges, residential and commercial buildings, and power generation facilities in the Western Asia region. Many of these Malaysian companies have teamed up with Arab partners and employ highly skilled Malaysians.
Malaysia is today a premier international Islamic financial centre for the origination, distribution and trading of Islamic capital market products, including treasury instruments such as sukuk. Currently, there are ten Islamic banks in Malaysia of which three are Arab, including a consortium led by the Qatari Islamic Bank. I would urge companies that are seeking Islamic financing facilities to take advantage of the wide range of Syariah-compliant services available in Malaysia.
The second sector that I would like to make a special mention of is halal products and services. Malaysia is actively developing and promotinghalal products and the halal services industry. We have a Malaysian Halal Standard that meets the requirements of the global Muslim community, and which also measures up to international health and safety standards such as C.O.D.E.X and H.A.C.C.P. The Malaysian Halal certification is already well received by O.I.C members.
The provision of halal products and services is a rapidly expanding business globally, with tremendous growth potential in Western Asia and among minority Muslim populations in largely non-Muslim countries. I wish to invite the Arab business community and representatives to collaborate with Malaysia to take advantage of this burgeoning market.
Malaysia regards the Arab countries as our strategic economic partners. I am delighted to recall that last year, my Minister, the Honourable Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We also received a number of high-level visits from the Western Asia region, including the visit by the Prime Minister of Qatar in December 2011 and various Ministerial visits from other Arab countries.
This frequent exchange of visits between our two sides is a testimony of the friendly relations and strong economic ties between Malaysia and the Arab world.
Allow me to conclude by reminding the business community that it cannot rely solely onGovernment initiatives alone to get going.Business Councils and Chambers of Commerce should assume a facilitative role and aggressively promote business to business exchanges. Itherefore commend the Arab Malaysia Chamber of Commerce for gaining recognition from the Arab League.
Finally, I’d like to thank the organisers of this forum and everyone for your presence here. I wish you every success.