The five countries represent a New China in terms of low-cost labour, agile manufacturing capabilities, favourable demographic profiles, market and economic growth.

Malaysia is the M in the MITI-V (pronounced “Mighty 5”) countries of Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, seen to be an Asian powerhouse emerging over the next few years.

Such an extraordinary claim might be easily dismissed if it came from, say, the five governments involved.  

In fact, however, that expectation is expressed in the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index (GMCI), a report published in recent weeks by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and the US Council on Competitiveness. 

The index is created through a survey of over 500 leading corporate executives worldwide.

By 2020, our nation and the other four are expected to pierce the top 15 nations in the index, together representing “a New China” in terms of low- cost labour, agile manufacturing capabilities, favourable demographic profiles, market and economic growth.

Globally, the report foresees the USA becoming the most competitive manufacturing nation over the next five years, surpassing the current leader, China, with Germany a solid third.

Competitiveness has never been more intense around the world, and never more important to national success.  And Malaysia is  nicely  moving up the scale.  The report placed Malaysia 17th among the top 40 nations in the index this year and predicts a rise to 13th place by 2020.

It is the latest expression of international enthusiasm about our country. 

And while we welcome and share the optimism of the analysis, we must ensure that such growth is sustainable and does not occur at the expense of our descendants and erode our environmental heritage.  

It is against this backdrop that Malaysia’s unique “kitchen cabinet” of national and international sustainable development advisers, the Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC), prepares to meet in London on May 17.

Chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, national and international figures from business, science and academia comprise GSIAC (gsiac.org) with a mandate of helping Malaysia identify and pursue sustainable means for achieving high-income status by 2020.

A key focus of GSIAC’s spring discussions this year will be how to foster the wellbeing of Malaysians in the new world economy, characterised by new forms of industry and jobs.

 Moderated by Professor Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London, the group will deliberate on the positioning of Malaysia as a nation that is competitive, sustainable and innovative and the  ingredients of that success.

The second key topic for GSIAC is sustainable job creation and wealth generation, a conversation to be moderated by Professor Datuk Noor Azlan Ghazali, vice-chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and a member of Bank Negara Malaysia’s Monetary Policy Committee.

The recent competitiveness report from Deloitte helpfully offers a five point plan on how global manufacturers can succeed in the rapidly evolving global manufacturing landscape.  

It urges companies to embrace a targeted approach in the following areas:

ENSURE talent is “the” top priority.  Executives worldwide rank talent as “the most important driver of competitiveness” and “competition among nations and companies is expected to be fierce.”  Firms, therefore, need to attract, develop and retain great employees and become “employers of choice,” nurturing collaborations to leverage talent outside of the organisation as well;

EMBRACE advanced technologies to drive competitive advantage. This means converging the digital and physical worlds where advanced hardware and software, sensors, “and massive amounts of data and analytics is expected to result in smarter products, processes, and more closely connected customers, suppliers, and manufacturing;

DEVELOP and take advantage of robust collaborative networks;

BALANCE talent management, innovation investments, portfolio optimisation, cost competitiveness, manufacturing footprint, and supply chain to build a foundation for growth across multiple drivers of global competitiveness; and,

CULTIVATE smart, strategic public-private partnerships to help drive improvements not possible alone.

As noted, informing Malaysia’s sustainable development is the mandate of GSIAC. 

And, as Najib pointed out in a recent speech, Malaysia’s achievements in recent years have been based on three solid, inter-related principles: sustainability, inclusivity and innovation.

Our Green Technology Financing Scheme, for example, has successfully supported 188 projects, helping create nearly 4,000 jobs and saving the equivalent of 2.31 million metric tonnes of carbon emissions.

We have set targets for 2020 of recycling 40 per cent of our waste.  We have pledged to reduce national carbon emissions by 40 per cent as well (and in fact are well on the way). 

We have introduced tax incentives to encourage industries to adopt green technology, set targets for installed capacity of renewable energy, and made green growth an integral part of the 11th Malaysia Plan, which will guide economic development over the next four years.

Najib said: “We are the custodians of this magnificent country, in all its astounding variety, and our natural heritage is at the heart of our thriving tourist industry, which we should further strengthen. 

“But sustainability also makes financial sense. Conserving and recycling save money, and new green businesses offer huge and growing opportunities.”

Malaysia tries hard to forge a balance between socio-economic development and environmental wellbeing. 

As always, there is room for improvement and we are grateful for the opportunity to leverage the expertise of the international community to inform our policy options.  We look forward to the deliberations.

Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid is chairman of the National Professors Council and science adviser to the prime minister