Malaysian ambassador talks tech, trade, education
January 24, 2013By Jenny Callison, Vicky Janowski
Malaysia is actively seeking to strengthen its trade and educational relationships with the United States, according to the Asian country’s ambassador to the U.S.
Ambassador Othman Hashim spoke on Thursday to a group of Wilmington area business people Thursday as part of a series presented by the Cape Fear chapter of the North Carolina World Trade Association. The lunch meeting was held at Cape Fear Country Club.
Because of strong competition among Asian nations for manufacturing and international business opportunities, Hashim said, Malaysia is trying to build expertise in the biotech industry. He said his government is focused on education and training that will provide skilled workers to support biotech growth.
“When people in the U.S. think of Asia, they think of China and India,” he said. “We are a small nation of 29 million people, but we want to increase the awareness of our country and what we have to offer. We cannot compete in labor-intensive industries because our labor costs are higher than in some other countries, so we are focusing primarily on biotech.”
In using the term ‘biotech,’ Hashim explained, he means also to include other high-tech fields.
The ambassador encouraged those present to explore market opportunities in Malaysia, regardless of their industry.
Hashim and his attaché, Syed Edwan Anwar, spent Thursday morning touring the campus of University of North Carolina Wilmington. In his remarks, Hashim emphasized Malaysia’s interest in strengthening and broadening educational exchanges with the U.S. for undergraduate and graduate students. Asked what barriers might exist in sending more Malaysian students to study here, he said that some students’ mastery of English might not be sufficient, although much education in Malaysia is conducted in both English and Malay. He also cited his country’s educational system, which is modeled after the British, and whose exams are not readily translatable into the American system. However, the growth of the International Baccalaureate diploma in Malaysia is making native students easier to admit in the U.S.
The final barrier to U.S. colleges and universities is cost, Hashim said, pointing out that universities in Australia and New Zealand are much more affordable for Malaysian families.
The next event in the chapter’s speaker series will take place Feb. 5, when Tom Bradshaw, statewide logistics director and director of N.C. Ports, will present “State of the North Carolina Ports.” More information about the lunch program, also at Cape Fear Country Club, can be found at www.capefearworldtrade.org.
The North Carolina World Trade Association is not the only entity trying to increase the region’s – and the state’s – involvement in international commerce.
State Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, asked about said the Wilmington area could do a better job at promoting itself for international business. Catlin, who has supported the idea of creating a foreign trade zone at the airport, is currently heading up a group looking at the formation of a foreign trade promotion council.
“Look at Greenville, S.C. There’s a lot of international business there,” he said, pointing to the foreign trade zones in that region including one encompassing BMW’s manufacturing plant and the number of international firms that have located to the Greenville area.
He said there were numerous Wilmington-area perks such as the port, industrial parks and the airport business park that could be marketed more to international business.
“We have assets here that we can promote,” Catlin said.
New Hanover County commissioners approved the formation of a committee late last year.
Catlin, chairman of that committee, as well as representatives from the ports, airport, county government and state staff, will be working on the vision for a local foreign trade promotion council, details of how it would operate and an implementation plan.
“We’re researching what other people are doing,” Catlin said, adding that the group would be quasi-governmental but mostly represent the private sector.