The Malaysian Furniture Entrepreneurs Association (MFEA) expects the export sales of Malaysian-made furniture products to increase between 3% and 5% to about RM8bil this year from RM7.67bil last year.
The United States and China are two economies that are expected to buy more furniture products from Malaysia this year.
MFEA president Lor Lean Sen said China was still an untapped market for Malaysian furniture manufacturers.
This is because the China market has always bought furniture made from medium density board, which is a cheaper material.
“However, as the China middleclass has grown, the country has started importing rubber-wood furniture products from Malaysia since the second half of last year.
“We expect China to order more from us this year, as there is zero import duty on Malaysian-made furniture entering China.
“About half of the urban population would by 2025 have a gross income of 13.3 trillion yuan, which would mean more purchasing power for imported and high quality products,” he said.
The United States was another market that was expected to purchase more furniture products from Malaysia this year, Lor said.
“In January 2012, the US purchase of Malaysian-made furniture products hit RM163mil, compared with RM158.8mil in January 2011, an increase of about 3%.
“As the economy in the United States recovers further this year, we expect more purchases for Malaysian-made furniture products from the US,” Lor added. MFEA members will be taking part in the forth-coming China Import & Export Fair (Canton Fair), scheduled to be held from May 1 to 5, and the 9th China-Asean Expo (CAEXPO) in Nanning, scheduled to be held from September 21 to 25.
India is also expected to be a key furniture market for Malaysia in the near future, as the Indian government plans soon to further reduce its import duty on Malaysian-made furniture.
On enhancing the competitive edge of Malaysian furniture, Lor said that furniture makers were looking to collaborate with Italian furniture designers to transfer Italian furniture making know-how to Malaysia.
Such collaboration would help Malaysian furniture companies to manufacture more value-added furniture products, in view of rising raw material cost.
Lor was part of the recent delegation, led by Plantation Industries and Commodities deputy minister Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin, which visited the Milan Furniture Fair 2012 in Milan, Italy, which was held from April 17 to April 22.
”Depending on the grade, rubber-wood prices per tonne currently hovers between RM1,800 to RM2,000, compared to RM1,500 to RM1,800 per tonne in November 2011.
”Prices have gone up to the shortage of rubber wood in the country.
”Although rubber-wood prices have increased, we still cannot increase selling prices, in order to stay competitive in the international market.
”Thus it is essential to produce more value-added furniture products,” Lor added.
In January, according to the recent Malaysia External Trade Corporation (MATRADE) report, Malaysia's furniture export sales came down by 14.7% to RM571mil in January 2012 from RM670.6mil in last year's corresponding month.
Lor said this was due to the shorter working days in January 2012 and also less orders from key customers such as Japan and Singapore.
For example, Japan imported about RM64.2mil worth of furniture products from Malaysia in January 2012, compared to RM80.8mil in January 2011, down by 20.6%.
Singapore imported RM41.4mil in January 2012, compared to RM58.8mil in January 2011, down by 29.5%
The MFEA has about 3,000 members, of which about 30% are involved in export business.