Malaysia fast-tracks investments to win trade-war business

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KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 17): Malaysia has set up a panel to fast-track investments as it seeks to woo businesses affected by the US-China trade dispute and it approved more than US$500 million in new proposals this month, a government minister said.

An increasing number of US and Chinese businesses have been moving manufacturing out of China to escape tit-for-tat tariffs imposed on each other's products.

Malaysia's new National Committee on Investment I (NCII) aims to encourage investment in Southeast Asia's third-biggest economy and it approved investments worth RM2.2 billion (US$526 million) in its first meeting, the minister said.

"If approvals took three months earlier, now it would take a month — from when the documentation is complete to when the committee will approve it," Ong Kian Ming, deputy minister in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, told Reuters.

"It would try to expedite investments that are relocating because of the US-China trade conflict," he said in a recent interview.

Vietnam has been widely seen as the biggest beneficiary of businesses relocating to escape the higher US tariffs on goods produced in China, but Thailand has also introduced a package of incentives to attract relocations.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) to Malaysia nearly doubled to RM50 billion (US$12 billion) in the first half of this year, of which over half went to manufacturing. Ong said he was hopeful of an even bigger rise in the second half of the year.

The new committee is headed by the ministers of finance and international trade and industry and they have the authority approve incentives immediately. Ong declined to give details of the specific deals it had approved.

US investment topped US$5.62 billion in the first half of 2019 and Ong said he expected that to pick up further.

Intel Corp, Dell Technologies Inc and On Semiconductor Corp are the lead players in Malaysia's well-established electrical & electronics (E&E) industry.

"We do see re-investments coming from existing US companies and new E&E players coming to Malaysia. I know of at least one company that has expressed its very serious interest to come to Malaysia. This is a new factory that will be built," he said, without identifying the company.

Ong said the number of investment applications from China had risen in recent months and its FDI could rise in the last six months after dipping to RM5.1 billion in the first half from RM5.69 billion a year earlier.

(US$1 = RM4.1780)