By JOHN GILBERT
KUALA LUMPUR: There is clear potential upside for Malaysia as a key destination for high value-added foreign direct investments (FDI) when looking beyond the ongoing US-China trade tensions.
Citi’s head of corporate banking Asia Pacific Gerry Keefe and within ASEAN, the country is among the top in relocation opportunities for supply chain shifts besides Vietnam and Thailand, adding there is also an upward trend in accelerating investment flows to grow local presence.
"US companies have been a large contributor to economic growth in Malaysia and is currently among the top contributor for FDI in 2019.
"There is a highly skilled workforce here too which makes it all the more compelling for global corporations to invest and grow here for the long term," he told The New Straits Times recently.
He said Malaysia’s economic resilience and steady gross domestic product (GDP) growth present investors with an attractive market and stable investment environment.
Malaysia is also logistically and fundamentally strategic given its diversified economy coupled with a well-capitalised banking sector.
On Citi's perspective, Gerry said Malaysia’s geographic advantage in the heart of ASEAN has spurred a number of the bank's clients to invest in the country and establish regional service hubs in Malaysia.
"In fact, Citi has a strategic investment here and we have set up two regional service centers for transaction services and anti-money laundering in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
"Annually, a total of 69 million transactions with value of USD$29 trillion are processed by the Citi Service Centre in Penang, one of our largest Trade and Cash processing hubs serving Asia Pacific, North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa," he said.
When asked if China, with the ongoing trade dispute with the US, possibly look at Malaysia, apart from Thailand and Indonesia to expand investments in the coming years, Gerry said given the backdrop this trend is not surprising.
"But clients we speak to both in China and the US, are still interested in exploring opportunities in each other’s market given the consumer opportunities and size of both markets.
"More trade is flowing through Asia and especially Asean though – trade is evolving – we have seen double digit growth in our intra-Asia trade flow book," he said.
When asked on opportunities in China's Belt Road Initiative (BRI), Gerry said the BRI is a major undertaking involving dozens of countries across a wide geography - and is likely to be a key multi-decade project for many countries and firms including Citi.
"The infrastructure development and connectivity being pursued will promote significant economic development for participating countries and regions.
"Trade flows are adapting evolving to be geographically diverse and shift towards markets where opportunities and costs are attractive and local technologies and infrastructure are in place in some of these markets like Malaysia and wider across the Asean region," he said.
He said Citi does business in over 105 BRI markets, which is about 80 per cent of the total BRI markets- the most of any bank globally, and with this local expertise and long-standing relationships with clients and regulators along the BRI, it places Citi in an excellent position to be the partner of choice for clients as they move forward.
"We have over 100-years of history of operating across the markets along the BRI with at least a decade’s experience across all the countries we can serve our clients in," he said.