Export insights from Malaysia

24 May 2017

Matt Ritchie

New Zealand Trade Commissioner to Malaysia, Matt Ritchie, share insights into the realities of doing business in Malaysia. 

As one of New Zealand’s top 10 trading partners and the second biggest in the ASEAN region, Malaysia presents numerous opportunities for New Zealand companies, particularly in food and beverage. 

The bulk of Malaysia’s imports are food ingredients, with our top exports to Malaysia in food and beverage including milk, beef, sheep meat, kiwifruit, apples, malt extract and butter. Market forecasts expect total food and beverage sales in Malaysia to grow to around US $21.17 billion in the next three years.

But before you can take advantage of the opportunities on offer, being export-ready is key – and this includes having a strong understanding of the investment required to get off the ground, plus taking time to build relationships with your in-market partners. 

Here are some tips to make your entry/expansion into Malaysia smoother, based on my observations from the recent business and cultural mission to Malaysia led by Māori Development Minister and Associate Minister for Economic Development Te Ururoa Flavell: 

  1. Māori culture helps open doors for business that might otherwise be closed: It is a unique part of New Zealand’s story – dubbed by Minister Flavell as the “X-Factor” that other countries don’t have. It was great to see the authenticity that Māori culture brought to the business proceedings of the mission. 
  2. Invest in investment: After hearing from Fonterra and Zespri’s in-market representatives, the delegation got a strong sense of the level of investment required to be successful. The underlying message was to focus your resources to have the greatest impact. Long-term commitment was equally important and emphasised on both the New Zealand and Malaysian sides. In his speech at the re-opening of Fonterra’s Susumas Plant, Board Member David MacLeod re-iterated Fonterra’s commitment to Malaysia: “over the last 40 years, the next 40 years, and the 40 years after that!”
  3. Relationships matter: In Asia having regular proactive contact with your partners is important. This is not just about email and phone calls – it’s about visiting the market regularly and inviting your partners to New Zealand.
  4. Halal Certification: This was a popular topic of discussion. I found it most interesting that Halal certification can increase market share for a company’s products, but not necessarily increase the price that can be charged for a product. For some consumers, this is very much a hygiene-factor. When doing retail visits, one of the companies observed examples of products succeeding with and without the Halal stamp.
  5. Look beyond Kuala Lumpur: If you are targeting Malaysia, do not just focus on Kuala Lumpur. It’s important to also look at opportunities in other high-population centres such as Penang and Johor (close to Singapore).