Malaysia’s new ambassador in Washington DC, Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, underscored the importance of forging closer trade and economic cooperation with the U.S., adding that he would also reach out to U.S. trade and industry associations and the corporate sector to highlight business and investment opportunities in Malaysia.
“Promoting trade and economic cooperation will be the focus of my work in the United States where Malaysia has over the years built up a network of contacts with a number of institutions and, generally, within the business community,” Nazri said in an interview with The Global Trade Magazine on the sideline of a recent event held at Malaysia’s permanent mission to the UN in New York where he addressed the Malaysian diaspora. Amir Farid Abu Hasan, the Malaysian consul general in New York, moderated the meeting between the ambassador and the Malaysian diaspora.
“Our aim is to further increase trade with the United States … I have been engaging with the USABC (the United States-ASEAN Business Council, an advocacy group whose objective is to foster economic growth and trade ties between the U.S. and the ASEAN member countries)…. all the big U.S. corporations that are members in the USABC, have been investing in Malaysia,” the envoy said. Before arriving in Washington DC, Nazri had coordinated closely with USABC officials in Malaysia and also participated in the Council’s seminars.
Nazri, who was Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism and Culture from May 2013 to May 2018, added that he also exchanged views with Malaysian businesspeople in the U.S. “Malaysian businesspeople provide useful insights …” he maintained.
The envoy pointed out that the United States is Malaysia’s third largest trading partner after Singapore and China. According to the latest trade figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Malaysia’s exports to the U.S. in 2022 amounted to $ 54.75 billion while its imports from the U.S last year were about $ 18.11 billion; Malaysia posted a trade surplus of $ 36.65 billion in bilateral trade.
During the Jan-March first quarter of 2023, Malaysia’s exports amounted to $ 11.99 billion while imports touched $ 4.32 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $ 7.66 billion in Malaysia’s favour.
Malaysia’s major exports to the U.S. consist of electrical and electronic products, rubber products, optical and scientific equipment, wood products, etc., while imports from the U.S. consist of electrical and electronic products, chemicals and chemical products, machinery equipment and parts, optical and scientific equipment, etc. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. can potentially increase its exports of agricultural products, equipment and machinery, aerospace and defense products, healthcare, information and communication technology, renewable energy, etc. This could benefit Malaysia because U.S. exporting companies can also consider setting up operations in Malaysia, using it as a hub for production and distribution in the ASEAN region.
But Malaysia is not alone in vying for greater trade and investments from the United States – Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have been aggressively courting American companies and, as their recent maneuvering shows, they have intensified their courtship through exchanges of high-level visits in both directions.
Because of its strategic location, the importance of the bloc of Southeast Asian nations called ASEAN has grown in context of the South China Sea which is witnessing a growing U.S.-China rivalry. Washington has received several high-ranking visitors from the ASEAN region – the most recent being Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr – while U.S. politicians have also visited various ASEAN capitals.
When asked to comment on Malaysia’s position in regard to the growing competition between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea, Nazri said that Malaysia maintained strict neutrality in the rivalry and “desired friendship with all countries”. The Philippines, Vietnam and other ASEAN member countries are “not disinclined to U.S. overtures to enter into strategic cooperation”, as some experts cautiously formulate the response of some ASEAN countries. Indeed, the Philippines is entering into defense cooperation with the United States, an old ally of the Philippines during the rule of former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
“The Philippines has been a strategic partner of the U.S. while Malaysia’s focus is on trade and investments with the U.S. We are trying to attract U.S. industry with our well-developed infrastructure, skilled manpower, lower costs and good connectivity,” Nazri said.
Malaysian passport holders have, meanwhile, been urging the Malaysian government to get the facility of visa-free entry into the U.S. That subject was raised by past Malaysian governments with successive U.S. administrations. “While we will not lose sight of that goal, Malaysians should, meanwhile, get the appropriate visa and follow U.S. visa regulations for visiting the U.S.,” Nazri responded.
Malaysia is also interested in promoting cultural, academic and people-to-people exchanges and activities. Nazri revealed that a Malaysian tourism official will be posted at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington to promote tourism from the U.S. to Malaysia. After the closure of the Malaysian Tourism Office in New York a few years back and discontinuation of flights by Malaysian Airlines to the east coast, tourism promotion efforts seemed to have weakened. At present, Malaysia’s Tourism Ministry has only one representation office in Los Angeles which promotes tourism from the U.S. “We are confident that a tourism representative at the embassy (in Washington) will strengthen the overall tourism-promotion effort,” the envoy said.