Achieving ‘Malaysia First’ Along With ‘America First’

On Sept. 12, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will meet President Donald Trump, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of ties between our two countries. It is customary on such occasions to speak about our common bonds, shared values and our success over the past six decades. I have no doubt the leaders will do so.

On this occasion, the meeting will have far more purpose. There are immediate and real economic opportunities for both America and Malaysia – both countries are looking to rebalance trade and economic policies that create more jobs and prosperity for our peoples. In essence, both sides, by working together, can achieve “Malaysia First” and “America First.”

The clear opportunity is for American exporters and investors. America is the engine of the world economy and needs export markets to continue its incredible growth and success. New markets in Asia will fuel American manufacturing and agriculture for years. Malaysia is one of Asia’s fastest-growing consumer markets: We welcome American success stories, whether that be agricultural products or manufactured goods.

Malaysia also provides a base for U.S. companies to access and integrate into the Southeast Asian region. Companies such as Dell and Intel have been long-term investors in Malaysia and have played a pivotal role in Malaysia’s economic growth.

Trade relationships must work both ways. Malaysia produces world-beating products that benefit American businesses and consumers. Malaysia is now the largest exporter of integrated circuits to the United States. My ministry oversees Malaysian commodities that include timber and rubber. It also oversees Malaysia’s world-leading palm oil sector, which provides low-cost, high-quality vegetable oil and food for U.S. producers and retailers. In particular, Malaysian palm oil has helped U.S. companies to reduce transfats levels, benefiting the health and well-being of the American people.

More importantly, the farmers that cultivate and produce Malaysia’s rubber and palm oil are reminiscent of the American agricultural success story. Malaysia is a small country relative to the U.S. — we have 650,000 small farmers compared to millions in the American heartland. In Malaysia, we are as supportive of our small farmers across the country as President Trump is of his farming communities in great agricultural states like Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, to name a few.

Prime Minister Najib and President Trump both recognize the importance of these communities, whether they are small farmers spread out across Malaysia or agricultural communities in Nebraska, Kansas or Iowa, and they are ready to fight for them. The leaders are ready to pursue new policies that overturn the old, elitist consensus and place the government’s focus on ordinary hard-working people who need new jobs and new hope. What does this shared agenda – and these shared goals – look like, and what does it mean for the U.S.-Malaysia partnership?

The essentials, first:

  • Strong support for the communities and businesses that rely on those farmers – that includes the farmers themselves but also manufacturers of plant equipment, automobiles and other essential skilled labor.
  • Ensuring that the tax system, the banking sector and other services can be reformed to better support those communities. Too often, in the past, ordinary people have been let down by decisions made far away from them.

Our shared agenda should also prioritize tackling narrow interests that have harmed jobs in both our countries. The environmental lobby is an important example. Malaysia, like the United States, is wholly committed to protecting our environment, but this must take account of our national interests. Irresponsible sections of the green lobby have exploited its international media megaphone to talk down industries that are critical for jobs in both Malaysia and America, particularly in rural areas. A new, sensible environmental approach based on protecting the environment but also protecting jobs is needed. This is a concrete goal.

For these leaders, Sept. 12 will mark a new era of U.S.-Malaysia cooperation. President Trump and Prime Minister Najib will kick-start this new approach, fired by our nations’ shared agenda of supporting rural communities, rationalizing environmental regulations and expanding trade to support American jobs.

Mah Siew Keong is the minister of plantation industries and commodities for Malaysia.

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