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  • Writer's pictureBait Al-Amanah

Strengthening Malaysia-Turkiye relations

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

By Nabiela Ismail and Karisma Putera Abd Rahman, Research & Advocacy analyst, Bait Al Amanah

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (left) shake hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Complex on July 7, 2022. - BERNAMA PIC


LETTERS: Recently, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob embarked on a four-day official visit to Turkiye as both countries contend to strengthen bilateral and economic ties, cooperation in aerospace and defence industries.

Though the agenda pursued was comprehensive, it lacks strategy and depth to focus on the maximum potential for collaboration.

In 2020, among the countries in the West Asia region, Turkiye was Malaysia's third largest trading partner, second largest export destination and fifth largest import source, with total bilateral trade exceeding US$4.09 billion (RM16.97 billion).

In the health sector cooperation, (Turkiye President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan made an offer for Malaysia to work together on the development of Turkovac, a Covid-19 vaccine of Turkish origin. The proposal was received warmly by Ismail Sabri, who requested the Health Ministry to study the offer.

However, Malaysia and Turkiye have also yet to explore the collaboration it could hone in biomedical sciences. Indeed, Turkiye's invitation for Malaysia to be part of the vaccine development proved that Malaysia has gained confidence in health sciences and the collaboration should be further enhanced.

The expansion of the free trade agreement (FTA) must include biomedical devices in the list.

Topping off the tourism sector, the tourism industries in both countries need a revival after the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 107,000 Malaysians visited Turkiye in 2019 alone, while only 15,000 Turkish tourists came to Malaysia.

Tourism has always been the key attraction for Turkiye. The emphasis on the tourism sector made by Ismail Sabri is timely as it aligns with the need to further empower Malaysia to be a world-class health tourism destination.

Through the Malaysian Healthcare Tourism Council, Malaysia's expertise in in-vitro fertilisation, cardiology, oncology, dentistry and plastic surgery can be enhanced by having Türkiye as one of Malaysia's key markets.

Turkiye is one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world. Malaysia's offering of its expertise in natural rubber technology, mainly in seismic rubber bearings that are capable of absorbing earthquake tremors for the construction industry, is seen as a significant move.

The visit ironed out vital components of bilateral relations covering the trade of natural resources, the sharing of technology in defence and aerospace, and food security. However, there are more areas of expansion that the FTA has the potential to focus on more deeply.

Malaysia and Turkiye are both members of D-8, the economic cooperation among major Muslim developing countries. As an extension of Malaysia-Turkiye relations, this synergy should propound the agenda on post-pandemic recovery by prioritising multilateral cooperation and rallying group members to commit to the D-8 agenda.

All of the D-8 members are Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members at the same time. Concurrently, they are both the leaders in technological and economic development, posing commercial potential within the OIC population.

As progressive Muslim nations, Malaysia and Turkiye should champion the effort to lead the Muslim world in multiple cooperation. To set an example, Turkiye and Malaysia have to begin by refining the existing strategic partnership and focusing on specific areas.

Strengthening ties between both countries is crucial to building robust bilateral economic relations.

Malaysia, as the leading nation in Southeast Asia, has the prowess to play a pivotal role in facilitating Turkiye's economic cooperation in the Asean region.

Hence, a reciprocal relationship on market access will benefit both Southeast Asia, as well as Turkiye in expanding trading activities on various goods, including raw iron bars, iron blocks, jewellery and gold.

In late 2019, Turkiye was seeking to forge closer ties with Asean through its Asia Anew Initiative, and the only FTA that Turkiye has with Asean member states are Malaysia and Singapore.

Therefore, it is high time that Malaysia led the cause in diversifying Turkiye's economic partnership with the region.

Turkiye as a regional power serves the multitude of trade and investment linkages to enter the European Union market. To elevate the position of Malaysia, we need the network and Turkiye's advisory to reserve a spot within the region. Thus, future work on Malaysia-Turkiye relations should be conducted systematically by focusing on specific areas of collaboration instead of a "touch all the bases" approach.

*This article is originally published on News Strait Times , dated 30 July 2022.

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