National export promotion agency Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) is pushing Malaysian exporters towards better branding and packaging of quality-type products, its newly-appointed chairman Datuk Mah Siew Keong said.
With innovativeness, they will find markets willing to pay a premium for their exports, Mah added.
"Exporters, especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), can no longer compete on pricing alone when compared to those in Cambodia and Vietnam," he said during his first media briefing at his office in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Malaysia may rank within the top 20 trading nations in the world but it needs to step up its promotion exercise, especially with regards to the services sector, he said.
Matrade has been leading promotions in designing and architecture to markets like Paris and Venice.
"The New Economic Model charts Malaysia's path towards a high-income nation and Matrade will be strategising (programmes) accordingly," he added.
Mah, who was a deputy International Trade and Industry Minister six years ago, said the government has been extending assistance to companies by way of subsidies and grants in promoting their products and services abroad.
"It is the exports of our products which have placed Malaysia on the global map and helped the economy to expand to become a globally competitive trading country. Exports have enjoyed strong growth in the past decade except for 2001 and last year," he noted.
During the global economic crisis period in 2009, which led to a collapse in global demand, Matrade's strategy was for the local companies to continue to stay on the international market scene.
"We pushed them to continue with their exporting activities with their respective markets as (a pause) may pose difficulty for them to re-establish ties and also affect Malaysia's exporting strength in these markets."
Malaysia is currently trading with 200 nations worldwide but many of the markets hold a lot of untapped potential, Mah added.
The presence of Malaysian exports in the African continent is still limited and yet to be exploited while Asian giants China and India are trillion-dollar economies where the Malaysian export share is sizeably small.
"We need to not only look at the consumer potential but also the industries markets in these nations. For instance, the Indian economy is trending towards their manufacturing and this translates to huge opportunities in terms of machinery and other forms of expertise."
Mah said many of the SME players are wary with the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta) and how cheaper imports have affected their business performance but they fail to look at the potential their products hold in markets outside the region.
"Middle East nations and even China place our products in high regard vis-a-vis their domestic products," he said.
Meanwhile, Matrade chief executive officer Datuk Noharuddin Nordin was confident that Malaysia would still be able to clock a trillion-ringgit total trade for 2010 despite a moderating growth trend in the second half of the year.
Total exports in July was RM55 billion following a 13.5 per cent year-on-year growth while total exports for 2009 was RM553 billion.
For the first seven months of the year, exports enjoyed a 24 per cent growth.
"The (trade) performance has been so good that we are confident that we can achieve the 6-7 per cent growth targeted," Noharuddin said.
Total trade in 2009 slipped off the RM1 trillion mark, easing 16.6 per cent to RM988.2 billion from the RM1.2 trillion recorded in 2008.
On the suggestion to allow the ringgit to be fully traded overseas, Noharuddin said Malaysian businesses have the capacity to adjust to the upward trend of the currency which has moved up in tandem with other regional currencies.