MILAN: Malaysia is poised to expand its relations with the European Union, be it in trade and investment or people-to-people connectivity.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin urged the EU business community to discover, or re-affirm, Malaysia's attraction as the preferred investment destination in Southeast Asia.
Speaking at the launch of the Malaysia Pavilion at the World Expo Milano 2015 here today, Muhyiddin highlighted the country's strong economic fundamentals, underpinned by comfortable levels of external reserves, low external debt, low unemployment, and healthy inflows of foreign direct investments.
However, he acknowledged there were challenges, which the country was determined to meet to ensure and sustain growth.
"We expect to grow to hold steady between 4.5 and 5.5 per cent this year despite the global economic environment," Muhyiddin, who is on a three-day working visit to this Italian city, said.
The deputy prime minister arrived here on Thursday.
Muhyiddin said the success of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) launched in 2010 coupled with the Government Transformation programme (GTP) could be seen in the country's trade and investment numbers.
"We attracted a total of USD68 billion in investments, both foreign and domestic. The services and manufacturing sectors continued to play the leading role with 63.4 per cent and 30.5 per cent contribution respectively towards the approved investments in 2014.
"In terms of trade, Malaysia's total trade expanded by two per cent to total about USD445 billion in 2014, compared with about USD435 billion in 2013."
Muhyiddin also spoke on the country's improvement in competitiveness based on reports by international organisations such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and the Swiss Institute of Management Development.
The establishment on the Asean Community by Dec 31, this year, he added, would mark the fruition of the grouping's goal of creating a regional entity of "one vision, one community, one identity".
"A key aspect of the Asean Community is the Asean Economic Community (AEC), designed to create a single market and production base in Asean. The establishment of the AEC at the end of this year sends a powerful signal that Asean is commited to market liberalisation and
the facilitation of trade and investment."
On the Malaysia Pavilion which carries the theme Towards a Sustainable Food Ecosystem, Muhyiddin said its design reflected the nation's rich biodiversity, and drew inspiration from a humble seed, a symbol of growth.
The expo, held for the first time in 1914, showcases participating countries' technologies in ensuring food sustainability. Open to the public from May 1 to Oct 31, some 20 million visitors from around the world are expected to visit its 1.1 million square metres of exhibition area.
A total of 145 countries are taking part in the expo this year, which would provide Malaysia a platform to display its development from an agricultural country to what it is today, as well as promote trade and investment.