THE recently concluded Invest Malaysia 2011 Forum in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was significant with a bilateral pact signed; deals inked between the private sector, state government and government agency; high-level private meetings and confirmed reciprocal visits.
The event, which took place at the UAE capital city, Abu Dhabi, was held for a day only. Yet, its impact is far-reaching.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak led the Malaysian delegation, comprising over 100 leaders from the public and private sectors as well as government-linked companies.
Besides promoting opportunities in Malaysia to attract multi-billion ringgit investments from the Middle East, the delegation also sought joint ventures and transfer of knowledge.
After addressing the forum and launching Invest Malaysia report and witnessing the signing of agreement, Najib had a private meeting with Mubadala Development Corp chief Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak.
Abu Dhabi's investment arm, Mubadala has committed a few large investments in Malaysia, including the Kuala Lumpur International Financial District, an aluminium project in Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, the development of Malaysia's carbon neutral city as well as a lifestyle and leisure cluster in Medini Iskandar Malaysia.
During a roundtable with Abu Dhabi-based media representatives later, Najib shared Malaysia's strategic reform initiatives and opportunities under the trade pact between Malaysia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The prime minister also visited Masdar City, a multi-billion dollar carbon-neutral development in the Abu Dhabi desert. The visit prompted him to direct a study on the alternative energy developed there to see if the technology is applicable in Malaysia.
Leading a 30-people delegation from Malaysia's largest state to Abu Dhabi was Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud. Abdul Taib had a series of one-on-one meetings with key leaders from the GCC.
Tanjung Manis Halal Hub executive chairman Datuk Norah Abdul Rahman, who was among the Sarawak delegation, said interest from the Arabs was beyond expectation.
Speaking to Business Times in Abu Dhabi, Norah said the GCC business leaders, who were pleased to meet the chief minister, are interested to participate in projects, especially in halal hub and food security.
Resource-rich Sarawak, which mounted its first trade and investment mission to the Middle East in conjunction with the forum, is anticipating high-profile delegations from GCC countries to the state this month.
During the forum, Malaysia and the oil-rich GCC signed a landmark framework agreement to enhance economic, commercial, investment and technical ties. The deal paves the way for free-trade talks, which are expected to be sealed by next year.
The GCC market of Oman, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia has a population of 38 million people with a combined gross domestic product of over US$860 billion (RM2.6 trillion).
In the first 11 months last year, Malaysia's total trade with the GCC amounted to US$9.8 billion (RM29.8 billion) compared with US$8.4 billion (RM25.5 billion) in 2009.
Malaysian public and private sectors also signed five deals with companies in the GCC, involving multi-million dollar investments and potential lucrative spin-offs.
The forum, which was organised by Focus International and Arabian Business in cooperation with Mida, was attended by some 500 delegates from Malaysia and the GCC.
Among areas deliberated by the investment and business community during the forum include investment climate and opportunities, halal sector, renewable energy, capital markets and healthcare.
The forum further cemented the relations between both sides which existed for many years, enhanced by Malaysia's recent chairmanship of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference in 2003 and 2007.
As uncertainties plague Western economies, now is the best time for Middle East nations to shift their trade and investment focus to stable economies of Asia, especially Malaysia.
Invest Malaysia was a such success that the organiser, Focus International, is planning a similar forum this year. It is understood that the forum will be held in September in another GCC member state.
Meanwhile, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed Zayed Al Nahyan is scheduled to visit Malaysia in June.