Anyone from Hong Kong doing business or relocating to work in Malaysia may have noticed a few changes of late. Procedures ranging from obtaining an expat employment permit or sealing a property deal, to renewing business licences and clearance for imports and exports have been substantially improved, according to official reports.
The untangling of red tape and the efficiency drive in government departments has largely been spearheaded by Pemudah - or the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business.
The high-powered unit is a public-private sector initiative that arose from a speech made by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in January last year. A month later the task force was formed comprising 23 leaders from the public and private sectors with the nation's top civil servant and the president of Malaysia's manufacturers association at the helm. Its mission is to improve the delivery of services.
Malaysia's consul general to Hong Kong, Cheong Loon Lai, said Pemudah was the driving force behind changes to make his nation a better place to do business. Changes were being made rapidly with the aim of ensuring the achievements continued. 'Malaysia wishes to improve its business environment ... [to] facilitate services-related investment and activities,' Mr Cheong said, adding that Malaysia could learn a great deal from Hong Kong 'by benchmarking against the HKSAR in the development of the services sector'.
Mr Cheong, who has been in his Hong Kong post for nearly six months after previously being stationed in Moscow, said he believed bilateral trade levels could increase with better co-operation between businesses. High on the list was development of the services sector, integrated logistics, distributive trade, education and training, information and communications technologies, and financial services, including Islamic finance.
Hong Kong is Malaysia's eighth-largest trading partner, the sixth-largest export destination and tenth-largest source of imports, according to consulate figures. Between January and April this year, total trade between Malaysia and Hong Kong amounted to US$4billion, with exports totalling US$2.5billion and imports US$1.5billion.
'There is obviously a huge potential for a larger volume of Malaysian products to be distributed by and traded through Hong Kong, [and] worldwide,' he said.
Bilateral trade was worth US$12.4billion last year, an increase of 8.8per cent from the previous year. Exports for 2007 totalled US$8.1billion (a 2.5per cent increase from US$7.9billion in 2006) and imports stood at US$4.3billion - a 26.4per cent increase from US$3.4billion in 2006.
Malaysia's major exports to Hong Kong include electrical and electronic products, chemical and chemical products and refined petroleum products. Hong Kong's exports to Malaysia include optical and scientific equipment, machinery, appliances and parts, textiles and clothing and electronic products.
'The people-to-people relationship has also been an important strength in Malaysia-Hong Kong overall relations,' Mr Cheong said, particularly in reference to the 15,000 or so Malaysians living here. 'Most are professionals in various fields and I am proud to note that they contribute significantly to the development and prosperity of Hong Kong. They also play an important role in promoting good relations and partnerships between Malaysia and the HKSAR.'
As Malaysia strives to improve conditions for business and investment, Mr Cheong said the government was positive about weathering any fallout from the US credit crunch, though it would have an effect on growth.
'Malaysia has a proven track record in successfully overcoming difficult periods in its economic history. A good example would be the last Asian financial crisis in 1997 where, within a year, Malaysia was able to resume steady growth by expanding 6.1per cent and 8.9per cent during the post-crisis years of 1999 and 2000, respectively,' he said.
'Malaysia is confident that recent measures adopted to curb the global economic downturn would ensure that the country's economy will continue to prosper although expanding at a slower rate.'