ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM OF THE YEAR

Malaysia 2019 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Marco Winter, Executive Director of the Malaysian Dutch Business Council (MDBC), on awards, ASEAN opportunities, and the country's trade relationship with the Netherlands.

What have been the main recent highlights and achievements of MDBC?

In 2018, MDBC won the APAC 2018 International Chambers of Commerce Membership Engagement Program of the Year Awards. This year, we were recognized as one of the top Dutch chambers in the world, being only the second to receive the NLinBusiness quality mark at an accreditation ceremony held in the presence of the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, HE Stef Blok. We surpassed the milestone of 1,000 placed students for our Student Internship Program (SIP) last year and continue to grow the program. We continue to see a growth in memberships from 40 in 2003 to nearly 300 in 2019.

What is the scope of services you provide to your members?

MDBC provides business services, representation, and networking for all members and businesses with Malaysian-Dutch links. Oftentimes, Dutch entrepreneurs looking to enter the Malaysian market will approach us. We guide them in the set-up process and put them in touch with the necessary local authorities and our members who provide a wide variety of services—everything from corporate secretariat, flexible work spaces, and relocation services to branding, and logistics support, to name just a few. We also directly offer visa services, career services, and provide our member companies with Dutch student interns through our SIP to aid them on special projects. Additionally, as Malaysia is a relationship-based business environment, we help them establish these relationships at the frequent informative and networking events that we organize. MDBC is recognized as one of the most active business councils in Malaysia, so there is ample opportunity for networking. With chapters in Penang and Johor, we are able to provide these services and networking opportunities even for organizations located in the northern and southern regions of the country. With our colleague, bilateral chambers, MDBC also does lobbying for our members as and when issues arise in the business community. With a collective presence, we can more effectively bring these issues and concerns of the Malaysian Dutch business community to the Malaysian government, often resulting in a quicker resolution.

Could you tell us more about your NLinBusiness accreditation and the opportunities it creates?

MDBC is the second Dutch chamber in the world to receive the NLinBusiness quality mark. In addition to being acknowledged as a 'best-in-class' leader, it is a sign to Dutch entrepreneurs that they can be guaranteed a 'soft landing' in Malaysia as they seek to enter the Malaysian and/or wider ASEAN market. The accreditation will also help raise our exposure among Dutch entrepreneurs worldwide; any looking to enter the Malaysian or wider ASEAN market know that they have a robust, active, and knowledgeable organization on their side.

How do you assess the importance of the ASEAN region, and in particular Malaysia, for the Netherlands?

ASEAN, and Malaysia, are growing in importance to the Netherlands. The Netherlands' Ministry of Economic Affairs has now placed ASEAN-5 (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam) in second spot, only behind China, in its ranking of priority countries and regions. With a combined GDP of USD2.63 trillion and a fast-growing market of over 630 million consumers, the ASEAN market is a dynamic one. It provides interesting business opportunities for Dutch companies in a wide variety of areas. Within that, Malaysia is a significant market for the Netherlands. In 2018, trade between the Netherlands and Malaysia amounted to a total of EUR7.87 billion. Dutch investments in Malaysia increased with impressive numbers in 2018. Malaysia remains an important market for Dutch machinery and transport equipment, with an export value of EUR493 million in 2018. It is also a popular export destination for Dutch food products and live animals, which reached a value of EUR154 million in 2018, or 14% of total exports. Dairy exports, among them, increased 44% to an amount of EUR25 million, EUR29 million worth of Dutch vegetables and fruit, and EUR19 million worth of Dutch meat and meat preparations found their way to Malaysia in 2018. It also remains an important export destination for petroleum (EUR156 million) and chemicals (EUR129 million) from the Netherlands. With these numbers, Malaysia remains the second-largest trading partner of The Netherlands within ASEAN, leaving only Singapore ahead as the regional transshipment hub.

How does MDBC collaborate with other Dutch Chambers in the ASEAN region to facilitate regional business?

MDBC is one of the founders of the ASEAN Dutch Chamber Network (ADCN), a collaboration that consists of six Dutch Chambers of Commerce—Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—that represent a diverse range of Dutch businesses in the region. Within ADCN, we share best practices. Since this year, ADCN has been developing some common exposure, highlighting our activities and events to entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, better streamlining of membership, and providing increased opportunities for respective members to attend events from Dutch chamber colleagues that could especially be of interest for many regional representatives in ASEAN.

How do you assess the ease of doing business in Malaysia for Dutch investors, and what are the focus areas for further improving Malaysia's investment climate?

Dutch investors benefit from the access that Malaysia provides to a much wider region, and there are similarities between the Netherlands' role in the EU and Malaysia's role in ASEAN. These past 10-15 years, significant improvements have been made in the ease of doing business in Malaysia, and the country has the rankings to prove it. Organizations such as MIDA, MDEC, and TalentCorp, together with the various state investment agencies and economic corridors, have all provided substantial support to foreign investors. At times, on a federal and state level, it might not be totally clear what the roles and benefits of these many agencies are, so their authority and scope of work have to be presented stronger. As chambers, we have emphasized to the new government the importance of consistency in matters that effect trade and investments; certain laws and guidelines have to be maintained, or for any proposed changes there should first be a dialog with the corporate sector.