Malaysia’s Near-Term Outlook still Favorable; Smart Natural Resource Management Ensures Smooth Path to High Income Economy

June 24, 2013

Malaysia a success story in harnessing its natural resource wealth, but policy adjustments needed to meet emerging challenges

KUALA LUMPUR, JUNE 24, 2013--- Resilient domestic demand will allow the Malaysian economy to recover from a slow first quarter in 2013, says a new World Bank report. GDP is expected to grow by 5.1% for both 2013 and 2014, driven by higher consumer and business spending. As the global recovery gathers speed in 2014, the Bank report states, Malaysia's external sector will increase its contribution to growth, offsetting the impact of tighter fiscal policies on the domestic economy.

Released today, the World Bank’s Malaysia Economic Monitor: Harnessing Natural Resources, notes that Malaysia’s trade has become more dominated by commodities such as crude oil, natural gas, rubber and palm oil. With prospects for demand in commodities dampened by weak growth in key export markets such as China and Europe, and an abundance of supply globally, Malaysia needs to accelerate structural reforms to ensure that its economy remains diversified and dynamic.

"Malaysia has done remarkably well over the last two decades," says Kaushik Basu, Chief Economist at the World Bank. "However, the coming onstream of new sources of global energy is likely to put downward pressure on several commodity prices. This will no doubt put restraints on growth on a commodity-exporting country like Malaysia. I hope Malaysia will show the nimbleness it has shown in the past."

Malaysia is one of a few developing countries that has successfully converted an abundance of natural resources into long-term sustainable growth. As noted in the report, sound policy choices ensured revenues from resource extraction were reinvested in the economy in the form of machines, buildings and education. This supported high rates of growth that was shared among the population, raising the average incomes of the bottom 40 percent of rural households by 7.1 percent a year over three decades, while poverty rates

"Malaysia is a good example of a country that has successfully used natural resources to invest in other areas of the economy,” says Annette Dixon, World Bank Country Director for Malaysia. “This has allowed the country to promote diversification, create jobs and improve living standards for its people."

While Malaysia can be seen in many ways as a blueprint for other resource-rich, developing economies to follow, important challenges have emerged as a consequence of the global boom in commodity prices in the 2000s. In recent years, the economy has become less diversified, with high-tech manufacturing declining and commodities increasing as a share of exports. As highlighted in this report, reversing this trend, as well as saving a higher share of revenues from oil and gas, will enhance the resilience of
Malaysia’s economy.

"To reach its goal of becoming a high-income nation, Malaysia will need to continue managing natural resources sustainably," says Frederico Gil Sander, World Bank Senior Economist for Malaysia. He added, "Some adjustments are needed to spend less of the resource revenues on consumption and more on building skills and institutions that will support further diversification."

The report suggests that policy makers in Malaysia consider measures to enhance structural reform and management of natural resource revenues going forward, including:

  • Improving sustainable consumption of natural resources by increasing the role of Malaysia's formal oil wealth fund, reforming fuel subsidies and reviewing gas pricing.
  • Diversifying the economy towards higher productive investments in non-commodity sectors through improvements in human capital and better public investment management systems.
  • Adapting agricultural commodity production to the effects of climate change.

The Malaysia Economic Monitor series provides an analytical perspective on the policy challenges facing Malaysia as it grows into a high-income economy. The series also represents an effort to reach out to a broad audience, including policymakers, private sector leaders, market participants, civil society and academia.

Media Contacts
In Kuala Lumpur
Intan Nadia Jalil
Tel : +6012 631 3011
In Bangkok
Paul Risley
Tel : +66 807815165
In Washington
Carl Hanlon
Tel : (202) 473-8087