Strengthening Economic Ties between Malaysia and Central Europe

Malaysia's Minister for Trade & Industry in Hamburg

Guest article by Nils Wolters, MIDA Frankfurt |

In October 2017, the Malaysian Minister of International Trade & Industry, Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, embarked on a one-week trip to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to promote Malaysia as a business destination and to strengthen the business ties between the two regions.

The Minister was accompanied by the CEOs of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), Dato’ Azman Mahmud, and the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE), Mohd Shahreen, as well as a business delegation consisting of various regional Malaysian development agencies who engaged in meetings with potential business partners throughout the trip.

The first stop of this Trade & Investment Mission was Hamburg, where the Minister led a business seminar titled “Business Opportunities in Malaysia” in front of 100 members of the regional business community. The seminar was chaired by the Honorary Consul General of Malaysia in Hamburg, Datuk Edgar E. Nordmann. Datuk Nordmann has been the Honorary Consul of Malaysia for more than 30 years and has been appointed Honorary Consul General in 1996. Today, his Honorary Consulate General covers the Northern Federal States of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Lower Saxony, where a combined total of approximately 700 Malaysian citizens live. As Chairman of the seminar, Datuk Nordmann has opened the event with a speech in which he highlighted the close relationship between the German and Malaysian business communities.

The opening remarks were followed by speeches from the Director of the International Department of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce (HK Hamburg), Ms. Corinna Nienstedt, and from Mr. Daniel Bernbeck, Executive Director of the Malaysian-German Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MGCC) based in Kuala Lumpur. In their speeches, the two respective Chamber representatives mentioned the latest trade and investment figures between Germany and Malaysia. The numbers show that the two countries have longstanding and healthy business ties which have only grown stronger over the years. For example, Malaysia became Germany’s 29th largest global import source in 2015, exceeding €7 billion worth of imports for the first time.

After the first two speeches, which were more from the German perspective, Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed held the keynote speech of the event, covering a broad range of topics such as the strengths and opportunities of the Malaysian economy, success stories from Hamburg-based companies in Malaysia and the benefits of Malaysia in the context of the ASEAN Economic Community, which makes ASEAN the 7th largest economy in the world. The Minister also spoke about the current business climate and the most recent policy changes in Malaysia which could be relevant for German companies. Besides the benefits of Malaysia as a location for German companies, Dato’ Mustapa has also highlighted the advantages of choosing Malaysia as a regional hub for business services such as administration. In the following Q&A session, the Minister has engaged directly with the audience and has answered several questions, for example about the comparative advantages of Malaysia over Singapore or about the various incentives offered by the Government to foreign direct investments.

After a networking lunch hosted by the Minister, the Malaysian delegation held business meetings with Hamburg-based companies from various sectors such as machinery and equipment, transport, ICT and many more.

The next stop of the Minister and the accompanying delegation was Amsterdam, where a similar event like in Hamburg was held. After that seminar, Dato’ Mustapa also took the opportunity to meet with the Malaysian students and diaspora living in the Netherlands, where he took part in a lively exchange and updated the Malaysian group about recent developments in their home country.

Also part of the Minister’s stay in the Netherlands was a visit to the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, a high tech and R&D ecosystem which is home to more than 140 companies and research and educational institutions. This unique ecosystem has not only impressed various international business media outlets like The Financial Times, Fortune or Forbes, who have all praised the High Tech Campus as one of the best locations in the world for high tech venture development, but also the Malaysian Minister, who liked the concept of how the high tech campus combines the synergies of private businesses and research and educational institutions.

Following that visit, the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade & Industry is now exploring the option of adopting the system in Malaysia as well.

The last stop of Dato’ Mustapa’s Europe trip was Belgium, where he took part in a Round-Table Meeting in Brussels with 10 Belgian high tech companies from various sectors like Chemicals, Textiles and Agriculture. The lively exchange was beneficial for both sides, as Belgium and Malaysia are interested to strengthen their economic ties in the future, both in terms of foreign investments as well as in trade.

Just like in the Netherlands, following the Round-Table, the Minister has received the Malaysian students and diaspora living in Belgium. The last official appointment of his visit however was with Cecilia Malmström, the European Commissioner for Trade, to continue negotiations on the Malaysian-EU Free Trade Agreement (MEUFTA). Both parties have agreed that a free trade agreement must be mutually beneficial and serve the interests of both regions on an equal level. Both parties have concluded their talks with a positive outlook and the plan to continue the negotiations in the near future.

In summary, the one-week visit of the Malaysian Minister to these three Central European countries was met with high interest from both sides, reflecting the wish of German, Dutch and Belgian companies to know more about Malaysia and its various benefits as a business hub in the ASEAN region. Likewise, the Malaysian Government always welcomes new investments and business ties with companies from Europe, especially from countries with such high tech industries like Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

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