Healthy trade surplus despite global gloom, says deputy minister

Panelists at a forum on the future of business in Kuala Lumpur yesterday agreed that agility is most important. From left: Wong Sue Wan, K Kathirgugan, May Knight, and Aiza Azreen Ahmad.

KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the global economic situation, Malaysia has managed to maintain a healthy trade surplus and this has given investors greater confidence in the economic growth of the country, Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry Ong Kian Ming said yesterday.

He said since 2018 till this July, the trade surplus had been “pretty good”, especially in the past few months because exports had been steady while imports had dropped. He said, however, that the decline in imports might be a lead indicator of a slowdown in the second half of the year.

Saying Malaysians should expect a deficit budget for next year, Ong added: “In the context of global confidence, we don’t want twin deficits, we don’t want a current account deficit and a budget deficit at the same time.”

That is why the trade surplus would boost investor confidence, he said.

Ong said this at the one-day “Business Foresight Forum 2019: New Business Directions 2025” organised by the Securities Industry Development Corporation (SIDC) at its premises here. It was attended by about 300 industry leaders, entrepreneurs and heads of companies.

Ong Kian Ming

Meanwhile, speakers at a panel discussion on “How businesses can stay future-relevant” agreed that agility was probably the most crucial factor.

K Kathirgugan, Technical Lead of Chowbotics’ China operations, said: “Agility is the bread-and-butter of startups. You can’t do anything without agility as we need to move fast, more so in the future.”

He said adaptability was another important factor in a fast changing environment. Saying even startups needed a plan although they were entering uncharted territory, Kathirgugan added: “However, we must be able to change the plan an insane number of times. We must understand that situations will change and change fast, so we must be agile and ready to adapt.”

Kathirgugan – who helped build the world’s first salad-making robot called Sally, and previously worked in the Silicon Valley in California – said companies should not punish failure but should consider it a “battle scar” when venturing into new areas.

Asked by moderator Wong Sue Wan what he thought was the one thing organisations should stop doing in order to go forward and still stay relevant, Kathirgugan said: “They should stop having a fixed mindset. They must be open to ideas and be adaptable.”

Another panelist, Aiza Azreen Ahmad, director, strategic development of Boost eWallet, part of Axiata Group, agreed that agility was important in the face of fast-changing technology and the work environment.

She said versatility was another important attribute and soon-to-be leaders should not be afraid to move into new territory. She said she often changed plans as it was a fast-moving environment and one had to move at speed to stay ahead.

She elicited laughter when, asked about talents in the country, she said: “If I could, I’d like to clone Kathirgugan”.

Meanwhile, Major Patricia Yapp Syau Yin, a flight instructor with the Royal Malaysian Air Force and Asia’s first woman MiG-29 fighter pilot, spoke about her experience as a pilot and how technology was playing a major role in the air force. She brought along a flight helmet to demonstrate this.

Recounting her upward climb as a woman in a male-dominated sphere, she said her advice to young women was to be bold and to chase their dreams. She also urged them to speak up and not remain timid.

Asked what her message, serving in the air force and defending the nation against possible threats, would be to Malaysians, she said: “Malaysia is a great country and everyone should appreciate the peace we are enjoying. Just look at the civil strife in some countries… we are peaceful.”

K Kathirgugan, Technical Lead with Chowbotics, says companies should see failure as a ‘battle scar’ and not punish those who fail.

She urged Malaysians to put aside racial and religious differences and work together as a team for the good of the nation.

Others who spoke included Richard Record, lead economist at the World Bank, Dr Dzaharudin Mansor, national technology officer Microsoft Malaysia, Edmund Terence Gomez, professor of political economy at Universiti Malaya, May Knight, president Asia Pacific Korn Ferry Advisory Hong Kong and China, and Syahrunizam Samsudin, CEO Tounch n’ Go Sdn Bhd.