DESPITE missing last year's RM10 billion export earnings target from furniture sales, industry players are confident that the RM16 billion furniture export target by 2020 is achievable.
Under the the National Timber Industry Policy (MTIP), the government has targeted RM16 billion furniture exports by 2020.
Deputy Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin said last year's export target of RM10 billion was not met due to the exchange rate and slowdown in the US and Europe.
He urged furniture exporters to explore new markets and improve their products and designs through innovation and research and development so that the RM10 billion exports could be achieved this year.
Hamzah said the plan to capture demand from North African countries this year may not materialise due to the unrest in the region.
"We may have to re-look at the export target (due to the instability in North Africa and Middle East), but I believe we can maintain the RM8 billion exports for this year.
"Although last year's furniture export was 20 per cent lower than the target, it is still commendable given the slowdown in the global economy," Hamzah told a news conference after officiating at the Export Furniture Exhibition (EFE) 2011 in Serdang, Selangor, yesterday.
Also present were Malaysia Furniture Industries Council president Richard Lee, Malaysia Furniture Entrepreneur Association president Lor Lean Sen and EFE 2011 organising chairman Desmond Tan.
Last year, Malaysia's furniture exports recorded 4.4 per cent growth to RM7.9 billion, from RM7.6 billion in 2009. The US and Europe are the industry's largest export markets.
Lee said if not because of the exchange rate, Malaysia's furniture exports would have registered RM8.6 billion in value.
"However, we registered RM7.9 billion billion due to ringgit appreciation that affected the industry's export earnings.
"In actual output, our export capacity increased by 10 per cent," he said.
Furniture makers see the situation as hiccups. Both Lee and Lor are confident that the 2020 export target under the MTIP is achievable.
"The industry should focus on design and product development as these will add value to the product," he said.
He added that local furniture makers who were previously original equipment manufacturers are now selling to the retailers, which enable their products to fetch better prices.
Industry players also called on the government to address the workers shortage issue in the industry.
Hamzah said to overcome the problem, the industry should undertake serious efforts to automate and mechanise their operations.
He said outsourcing of selected activities is another option, such as the production of furniture components to other manufacturers, including those in Sabah and Sarawak.