1. Firstly, I would like to thank the Malaysia-India Business Council for inviting me to address you here today. I am so glad that the council in cooperation with the Malaysian Associated Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry or MAICCI as well as other organisations have come together and given me the opportunity to meet with members of the business community and share my thoughts on how Government and business can work hand-in-hand for the greater good. And more so today, as I address the business communities from Malaysia and India, two countries with so much shared history and so much in common between our two civilisations and countries. And above all there is this promise of a huge and somewhat unrealised potential between our two countries to mutually engender greater economic cooperation and progress.
2. Minister Anand Sharma and friends from India, I recall that when I was in India beginning of this year, I was pleased not only to meet old friends and to savour the cultural riches of your country, but also to experience the economic vibrancy of India. I was very impressed with the development that I saw in Delhi and Chennai. I felt a palpable sense of purpose and you are right Mr Anand Sharma, I used the phrase “what I was seeing is the making of a new India”. A new India that has put in place a set of reforms and liberalised the economy ensuring market efficiency and better government responses to the need of the international business community and a very clear sense of direction.
3. And that is why I am excited about this relationship and I am deeply committed as much as my colleague Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is, we are both deeply committed to bring our relationship to even greater heights. That is why I am so much looking forward to the completion of the ASEAN-India Services and Investments Agreements as well as the Malaysia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement or CECA.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
4. This morning I want to share four points with you: first – about our bilateral economic relations, second – what we are going to do on the government-to-government front to take this relationship further, third – the role of our private sectors in enriching our future and finally – what we can do together on the regional and multilateral fronts.
5. Let’s have a quick glance at our bilateral relations. India is Malaysia’s 12th largest trading partner and 11th largest export destination. Malaysia is India’s 13th largest export destination. In 2009, total trade amounted to US$7.1 billion, 29 per cent down from the 2008 total of US$10.5 billion. First quarter of 2010 saw our bilateral trade recovering and I believe the latest statistic that was just handed to me this morning showed that in the first five months of this year (2010), total bilateral trade is up more than 11% on a year-to-year basis. So there is every reason to believe that we can get back up to 2008 levels, thereby completing successfully one of Dato’ Sri Mustapa’s KPIs.
6. I am pleased to note that our officials are working in earnest, working very hard in fact five rounds of discussion have taken place to meet this deadline; that the CECA must be concluded before the two Prime Ministers meet at the end of this year. What I would like to do is to propose a pragmatic approach to our discussions. It is important to focus on the fact that as developing nations and nations that are so much intertwined in terms of our shared history, that we should focus on what is doable and what is achievable. The negotiations should not be a zero sum game but rather it should lead to a win-win situation. What is important is while it is not possible for us to determine equal outcomes, it is possible for us to ensure an equitable outcome in terms of the CECA and our bilateral relationship. Let us attempt to conclude the negotiations. I share, Minister, your enthusiasm that this deal can be done and should be done. I look forward to the signing of the agreement in November when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Kuala Lumpur and that will be the highlight of his visit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
7. The CECA is just one example of what both governments are doing to take our bilateral relations to a higher level. We are also working on a Framework for a Strategic Partnership. This is an overarching agreement to oversee bilateral relations on various fronts, including economic, security and people-to-people engagements, and there are many positives that we can look to lately, for example, in terms of connectivity between our two countries. There is today a record of 111 flights between our two countries, 30 times weekly by MAS, 63 times weekly by AirAsia and 21 flights weekly by three Indian carriers. I have also instructed Immigration to facilitate the issuance of visas between our two countries, and we have also engaged a private company that has a presence throughout India to make it a lot easier for Indian nationals to visit Malaysia.
8. This brings me to my third point. A robust relationship between countries is one that is built on a proliferation of relationships at all levels, especially between the business communities. Over the years we have seen growing involvement of our business communities in each other’s economies. Malaysian construction companies have a strong presence in India, especially in infrastructure development but we have now gone beyond that traditional area, we have forged new business partnerships in many new areas including, of course, the construction of the wonderful new terminal at Delhi Airport, a shining example of the growing relationship of our two countries. Likewise, Indian manufacturing and IT companies have had a long history of engagement with us.
9. Trade and industry associations, such as the Confederation of Indian Industries in Malaysia, CIIM, the Malaysia-India Business Council, MIBC, and the Confederation of Indian Industries, CII, must collaborate to bring Malaysia and India closer together. I also encourage companies to tap on these associations, engage them, and get their views as you seek to understand the markets better. MIBC and CII might be able to provide insights and connections that might be useful as you enter the India market, whilst the CIIM and the various Malaysian chambers can play a similar role with regards to the Malaysian market.
10. From the Malaysian point of view, the chambers in India can play a key role in sharing the views of their member entrepreneurs and captains of industry on what needs to be done by the Government of Malaysia in order to attract investments. I would like to reiterate that Malaysia is very much open for business. We will therefore do what is necessary for Indian business to increasingly view Malaysia as a strategic commercial destination; a destination that can play a key role in their business’ onward growth and expansion.
11. I was happy to witness, whilst in India earlier this year, the signing of 18 Memoranda of Understanding and agreements between Malaysian and Indian companies. I am pleased that some of these have already materialised and that now, at least two companies are working together to explore third markets. The GMR-Malaysia Airports Berhad venture in the Maldives to build and expand the airport at Male exemplifies the kind of synergistic business relationship that we want to encourage. Furthermore, many Malaysian Government-Linked Companies as well as other listed businesses have invested in the transport, infrastructure and telecommunications sectors in India. Let us explore more opportunities and therefore deepen the economic bond between us to the extent that it engenders greater commercial confidence in each other.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
12. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and I also decided that we must strengthen not only our business-to-business relationships but also our business-to-government one. We agreed to the establishment of the Malaysia-India CEO Forum. This CEO Forum, which comprises captains of industry from both sides, must serve as an advisory body to accelerate and deepen bilateral economic relations. I am glad that this has already taken shape and both sides have already cleared the chairman and the composition of the forum and therefore, I have been advised this morning that this very morning, I can officially announce the existence of this CEO forum and officially launch it, which is an important link between our two countries.
13. Let me now draw your attention to the final point that I want to share with you this morning, namely, what we can do together on the regional and multilateral fronts. Regional economic integration is unfolding in a very tangible way. First of all, there is the goal of establishing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. We also have the ASEAN Plus One arrangements in place whilst the ASEAN Plus Three and ASEAN Plus Six arrangements are shaping up. Farther afield we have the Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP; and the Free Trade Agreement for Asia and the Pacific, FTAAP.
14. However, such regional and multilateral economic integration makes sense only if it also benefits the people and the domestic economy for example, will it improve the quality of life for the people of a nation? Will it eradicate poverty, will it create more employment? Countries must be allowed the flexibility and space to determine their economic course. This is especially important for developing countries which today account for about one-fifth of world output and world trade.
15. Herein lies the role that Malaysia and India can indeed play. We must not limit our cooperation to working together just in regional economic integration through our involvement in the ASEAN environment. More importantly, we must collaborate to ensure the effective conclusion of the negotiations towards a rules-based multilateral trading system under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation or WTO. The WTO, imperfect as it may seem, must continue to provide the framework for nations to discuss and negotiate at the multilateral level. Going forward we should join forces and facilitate the establishment of the middle-ground and thereby, contribute towards the conclusion of the Doha Round.
16. I am equally optimistic about the future direction and engagement of Malaysia and India in bilateral, regional and multilateral fora. We are on the cusp of better things to come. We have begun to put processes and mechanisms in place for greater business-to-business and business-to-Government relationships. I am very confident that we have put things in place for this relationship to flourish, and with the deep political commitment of both governments and with the warm, not only formal but personal relationship that we enjoy that has been declared between the two leaders of both countries, our relationship can only grow from strength to strength and be a very important relationship between our two countries.
17. In ending, I thank you for inviting me. I thank Minister Anand Sharma for your presence here and for leading a strong government and business delegation with you and I hope that you will find that this setting will lead to a productive outcome. On that note I thank you once again and I look forward to see the CEO forum working closely together, business councils very active and to the growing economic and political ties between our two countries.