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The 10th Malaysia Strategic Outlook Conference 2008

24th January 2008, Prince Hotel & Residence Kuala Lumpur

Report on Conference Proceedings

The 10th Malaysia Strategic Outlook Conference 2008 was held on the 24th of January 2008. The conference was organised by the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI) and is a premier Annual Series looking analytically at the state-of-the-Malaysian economy. Themed as "The Malaysian Economy 2008: Trends, Challenges, Strategies, Opportunities", the conference provided a timely opportunity to assess the economic outlook of Malaysia and the likely performance of the key sectors driving the economy. Ultimately, the Conference was aimed at providing illuminating and insightful views and opinions on strategy and the economy and set the tone for the 2008 Malaysian economy.

Opening Ceremony

Dato' Dr. Michael Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer of the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute, gave his welcoming remarks, and explained that the conference provides a timely assessment of the economy, highlighting key issues and provides a healthy environment for the speakers to interact. He then briefly illustrated what was to be expected of the nation's economy and announced that Malaysia's GDP would grow at 6.2% this year according to ASLI forecasts. He underlined factors that would contribute to this growth.

YB Dato' Seri Rafidah Aziz, Minister of International Trade and Industry, gave the keynote address and officially opened the Conference. She spoke on recent global events and their effect on the nation's economy. She also stated that from the past economy crisis, Malaysia has learnt valuable lessons and will be prepared. Details on the 3rd Industrial Plan were also disclosed; where it's strong foundation lies in Malaysia's 3 economic pillars: the services, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors. YB Dato' Seri Rafidah Aziz then launched ASLI's "Profiles of Excellence" Publication.

SESSION 1 : Malaysia's Economic Outlook & Challenges – What's Driving Growth?

Moderator : Tan Sri Dato' Dr. Ramon V Navaratnam, Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Studies, ASLI

Dato' Dr. Gan Khuan Poh, President of the Malaysian Economic Association spoke on the overview of the economy in 2007 and the current economic environment where factors such as stable interest rates, a strong Balance of Payment, where the Current Account is in surplus and improved investor confidence have been very beneficial to the national economy. Dr. Gan then highlighted key aspects of the outlook for the 2008 Malaysian Economy, naming various factors that will have significant impacts on the Malaysia and its economy, such as the Iskandar Development Region (IDR), the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER), strong hedge funds in the oil market and the current economic situation in the United States. He concluded by emphasising that the resilience of the economy depends heavily on the ability to decouple from the troubles in the US and European financial systems.

Dato' Ikmal Hijaz Hashim, Chief Executive Officer, Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) gave a comprehensive look at what is to be expected of the Iskandar region and of the phases of it's implementation. He also spoke on the differences between the Iskandar region, the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) and the Eastern Corridor Economic Region (ECER). Nation building is the agenda behind this massive project.

SESSION 2 : Regional Prospects – Where are the Opportunities in the Region? What Are the Risks? What Can Go Wrong? What should Be on Our Radar Screen?

Moderator : Prof. Dr. Lee Poh Ping, Principal Fellow, Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), National University of Malaysia.

Dr. Wong Yit Fan, Chief Executive Officer for Vietnam and IndoChina, DBS Bank Ltd highlighted the current situation of the global economy and of factors that would have large effects on it in the near future. He gave a detailed analysis on the impact of holding real interest rates at unreasonably low levels. He also said that global inflation to be higher than it's supposed to be.

Dr. Ooi Kee Beng, Fellow, Institute for South East Asian Studies, Singapore (ISEAS) emphasised on short term & long term (conceptual challenges) issues. In the short term, things are not bad for ASEAN. It has the Small guy's advantage, having flexibility on its side and that the Big guy will always need the small guy. In the long term however, ASEAN is way behind, especially in terms of infrastructure. China will be more integrated. He also spoke on ASEAN's convergence in Political Thought and of a need for Southeast Asian voices and faces.

Prof Dr. Mahani Zainal Abidin, Director-General, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia gave a talk focussing on the growing interdependence of East Asia, regional integration and prospects for ASEAN and spoke on medium term issues, linking them with outlook for the year. Detailed explanation was given on the how the East Asian countries will effect ASEAN and its dependence on ASEAN.

Special Luncheon Keynote Address – "Strategic Outlook for Agriculture Sector"

YB Tan Sri Dato' Seri Hj. Muhyiddin b. Hj. Mohd Yassin, Minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, Malaysia gave the Special Keynote Address. He began by introducing the key issues, challenges and prospects of the Agro-food sector. The agriculture sector is a key component of national economic growth. The factors that are driving the sector include high prices of food products such as sugar and rice, high petroleum prices that are encouraging the production of bio fuels and high incomes, resulting in a sustained high demand for food items. He emphasised the importance of the agro-food sector and of its need to be reengineered towards making Malaysia a centre for food production and Agro based products.

SESSION 3: The corporate Agenda – What's driving tomorrow's business? What are the New Corporate Challenges?

Moderator : Datuk Nicholas S. Zefferys, President and Chief Executive officer of applied Consulting & Engineering Sdn. Bhd.

Mr. Ou Shian Waei, Managing Director of IBM Malaysia, shared his view on how global integration is resulting in more complexity. Globalization has arrived and has connected 1.2 billion persons, he stated. IBM is looking beyond the level of a multinational and is spreading its activities where it makes the most sense. To achieve global leadership he noted that IBM looks at 3 key factors, which are Economics, Expertise and Openness. Innovation is the way to sustainable growth; IBM holds innovation jams and provides staff the opportunity to work in a region where they have special interest. He also addresses the changes of Human Resource requirements. He stressed that adaptability and leaders who can be trusted are of the utmost importance.

Dr Nungsari Ahmad Rahdi, Executive Director of Khazanah Nasional, focused on the investor perspective. He addressed three questions, what are the megatrends, what are their issues and what can firms do about these issues? There are three clusters of megatrends, and these are Concentration, Connectedness and Mobility, he noted. Arising from these megatrends there are two issues namely; defining boundaries of corporate responsibility and the rise of commodities. To counter these issues organizations have to reorganize in order to be able to retain and attract new talent.

SESSION 4: Industry and Sectoral Trends – What are the Key Financial, Commodities, Petroleum and Commodities Trends? Where is the Market Headed for These Key Sectors?

Moderator : Datuk R. Karunakaran, Director General Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA).

Mr. Vincent Leusner, President of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), underlined the importance of the Malaysian Market to the United States. He applauded the pro-business atmosphere in Malaysia. However, Foreign Direct Investment is on the downturn and Malaysia is laddered with countries such as Indonesia.

Dato Sabri Ahmad, Chairman of Malaysian Palm Oil Board, noted that the sector needs more Greenfield investment to remain sustainable. To improve harvest, research is being conducted in the genome system. Today sustainability has become a major issue, and Malaysia is committed to addressing this issue with its continual focus on the Palm Oil industry.

Mr. David Jones, Chairman of the European Union Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, gave a brief introduction to EU-MCCI. In order for Malaysia to move up the value chain he stressed it has to give more importance to the level of competitiveness within Malaysia. Indicators were then shown to the participants, reflecting Malaysia's relative competitiveness levels and the ease of doing business in Malaysia.

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