Chapter 2

Repositioning our Economic Partnership

Photo of W.G. Burns, Senior Trade Commissioner

W.G. Burns, Senior Trade Commissioner, Kuala Lumpur,(second from left) assisting at the Kuala Lumpur Materials Handling Display, 1973.

Following Malaya's independence, the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur turned its attention towards nurturing and strengthening Australia– Malaya trade. In April 1958, a trade delegation of 20 Australian businessmen, led by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Trade Minister, Reginald Schwartz, visited Malaya, Singapore and Thailand. After the visit, High Commissioner Tom Critchley announced that trade talks would commence and that he was confident they would lead to 'stronger ties between the two countries'.11 Australian exports to Malaysia then grew at a healthy pace.12 By the time Critchley left Malaysia in 1965, Australia's exports had doubled to A$49.8 million—around A$600 million today. More striking was that the trade balance had started to shift and, in 1965, Australia's imports from Malaysia had risen to A$31.9 million.13

Growth in the Australia–Malaysia economic relationship was spurred by new approaches to policy and long-term planning. In 1971, Malaysia launched a New Economic Policy (NEP), putting in place a 20-year plan intended to end poverty and transform the traditional tin and rubber economy into an exportoriented economy around manufactured goods.14 Australia also revised its economic policies, reorienting its trade focus to the Asia region.15 Trade agreements made with neighbouring countries in the 1950s and 1960s were refreshed, largely with a view to reducing tariffs. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, despite periods of diplomatic friction, the bilateral trade relationship continued to develop so that, by 1993–94, Malaysia was Australia's 11th largest export market and around 300 Australian companies had a presence in Malaysia.16 The growth was given impetus by the establishment of the Malaysia Australia Business Council (MABC) in 1986 and the Australia Malaysia Business Council (AMBC) in 1987. The MABC and AMBC continue to support our respective business communities in promoting trade and 'good relations between Australia and Malaysia by providing an avenue for contact and communication between business people'.17

Photo of chart show Total Two-way international investment

Photo of chart show Australia Malaysia international trade 1984-2014

Photo of chart show Australia Malaysia international trade 1953-2014

Photo diagram of Australia's trade and investment with Malaysia 2014