KOTA KINABALU: Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee has welcomed the lifting of the barter trade ban by the state government but warned it could backfire in terms of security on the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone).
The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president said he was pleased with the announcement as he believed it could help revive Sabah’s economy, particularly in the east coast, which has been hit badly by the unfortunate suspension of the barter trade in 2016.
“The government should expand the number of barter trade ports, such as in Lahad Datu, which already has good port facilities, because barter trade will have positive spin-offs on local economies.
“I think Lahad Datu is ideal for this kind of trade because it is strategically located mid-way between Sandakan and Tawau,” he told the media today.
While the economic benefits would be huge, Yong however cautioned that the plan must be accompanied by comprehensive security plans and precautionary measures.
He said this was because all parties should remember that the suspension of barter trade two years ago was a direct consequence of cross-border kidnappings, which were rampant at the time.
“For instance, the issue of pump boats has yet to be resolved. Further, the law-and-order situation in the southern Philippines is still fluid.
“Cross-border kidnappings affect not just barter trade but also tourism and maritime economic activities, such as fishing and overall business confidence.”
On the other hand, Yong acknowledged that the southern Philippines has great economic potential, with its vast natural and marine resources which Sabah cannot ignore.
The port of Jolo in Sulu, which was one of the biggest trading ports before the arrival of the Europeans 500 years ago, and Zamboanga City in Mindanao offer huge potential for BIMP-EAGA (East Asean Growth Area).
At the same time, Yong said the recent inclusion of the East Asean Growth Area in the “One-Belt-One Road” development concept with China will reopen centuries’ old direct trade between the southern Philippines and China.
“This will impact positively on Sabah’s trade with the Philippines,” he said.
Yesterday, Chief Minister Shafie Apdal announced the state government decided to lift the ban on barter trade with southern Philippines and Indonesia from Jan 1 next year.
Shafie hoped the move will encourage economic activities within the eastern Sabah region and that strict standard operating procedures (SOP) and guidelines would be put in place to ensure barter trade is not abused and is always geared towards business.
He defended the decision saying that barter traders were not the cause of kidnappings and that it was just an excuse to ban the trade by the previous BN state government.
The ban on barter trade has been blamed for the high cost of essential goods in the southern Philippines. They include rice, cooking oil and sugar.
These items are subsidised items in Sabah and some quarters have expressed concern that these items, which are supposed to be sold to Malaysians, will instead be sold to other countries at a higher price now.
The previous state government officials had claimed that even though the market is huge, the number of operators is small, thus not benefiting the locals as much because of the monopoly held by certain companies involved in the barter trade.
Barter trade in the east coast has been one of the major economic drivers in the area, providing jobs and business opportunities to the people.