Malay Mail (27/10/2019) - OCTOBER 27 — As the possible trade war between Malaysia and India looms ahead, it seems that most of Malaysia has all but moved on from caring. Local news headlines regarding the spat are few and far between and bringing it up in public prompts a ‘that-was-so-last-week’ eyeroll.
Does no one realize just how dire this situation could be? And why is our prime minister, the man that’s responsible for our collective well-being, not making moves to fix his mess?
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad is infamous for his tell-it-like-it-is persona. He made waves from 1981 to 2003 during his first stint in office for his verbal attacks on Jews, the West, and others. But while many Malaysians have shrugged off or even supported his unapologetic attitude in the past, that comes to an end when his acid-tongue begins to have a serious impact on the economy and the citizens of his country.
Last month, Prime Minister Mahathir made a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in which he claimed New Delhi had “invaded and occupied” Kashmir. The comment came after the Hindu governmen revoked the autonomy of the Muslim-majority region in August.
As expected, the Indian prime Minister, Narendra Modi, did not take so kindly to Mahathir’s out-of-place criticisms. Soon after, Reuters reported that India had plans to restrict imports from the country as a punishment. Citing an anonymous government source, Reuters claimed that the Indian government was “looking for ways to limit palm oil imports and may place restrictions on other goods from the country”.
Now let me be clear, Mahathir can be as sympathetic as he wants to the cause of those in Kashmir, but when his insults have reverberating effects that could cripple Malaysia’s economy... surely, he ought to think twice.
For those that do not keep their fingers on the pulse of Malaysia’s monetary situation, palm oil is the second biggest export and one of the pillars holding up the entire economy. The product contributes around 8% of the national GDP and more than one-third of agricultural GDP, with its exports equalling RM63.2 billion. India is the second-largest buyer of Malaysian palm oil, with 150,000 tons imported monthly. With the anti-palm oil sentiment growing in Europe, the last thing an already-fragile Malaysian economy needs is another blow.
Despite no official trade ban since Dr Mahathir’s comments, Indian trade bodies have already pre-emptively begun to restrict Malaysian palm-oil imports. Earlier this week, a major Indian vegetable trade body called on its 875 members to avoid purchasing palm oil from Malaysia while the government decided on specifics, with the president of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India stating, “in your own interest as well as a mark of solidarity with our nation, we should avoid purchases from Malaysia for the time being."
While this dark and dangerous cloud of a trade war storm brews ahead, surely Mahathir should be scrambling to make up for his careless words. Yet, our 94-year-old prime minister has stayed true to his stubborn self, remaining unapologetic and further stating last week, “We speak... our minds and we don’t retract and change.”
He continued claiming, “sometimes what we say is liked by some and disliked by others.” I hate to break it to our beloved Tun M, but when those ‘others’ you speak of have the ability to cripple your economy, surely speaking one’s mind ought to take a back seat. But as James Chin, a Malaysia expert at the University of Tasmania, stated, “It’s not purely a palm oil issue, it ties in with egos.”
What a dire pity that our Malaysian prime minister is more attached to his ego, than his desire to humble himself and save his country’s economy.
Mahathir better start fixing this mess, and that means more than sending Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok to do her brand of damage control which includes the suggestion of buying more sugar and buffalo meat from India. There is only so much Buffalo meat Malaysians can eat.
Besides the import of buffalo and sugar, the smartest first move may be exporting Indian fugitive Zakir Naik, a man desperately wanted by Indian authorities for money laundering and inciting terrorism. Our prime minister needs to step on the gas and get ahead of the mess he caused which could become a serious problem for Malaysia’s already-fragile economy.
Read more at https://www.malaymail.com/news/what-you-think/2019/10/27/prime-minister-mahathirs-acid-tongue-is-threatening-malaysias-economy-tarak/1804315