KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — Turkey could be an “alternative trade source” for Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said during a working visit there as South-east Asia’s third largest economy seeks to tap new markets amid ongoing US-China trade tensions.
China has been Malaysia’s top trade partner in the past decade. Total trade between both nations grew 13 per cent to US$108.6 billion (RM443bil) last year; in comparison, the latest total bilateral trade between Malaysia and Turkey is at US$2.38 billion.
“We see in Turkey, a lot of potential for import of some of the things we are importing from other countries. Turkey can be an alternative source,” Dr Mahathir told Anadolu Agency in an interview published on its website today.
“So, Malaysia is a trading nation, it depends on its exports, trade to almost 200 different countries. It is important for us that these countries remain open when there are sanctions applied or some other obstruction that affects our trade and that affects also our economic development.
“So, we see in Turkey, a lot of potential for import of some of the things we are importing from other countries. Turkey can be an alternative source, but beyond that, we really have not focused on trade as much as we should have,” he said in the one-on-one interview.
Dr Mahathir had shaped Malaysia's "Look East" foreign policies, especially Japan, when he first became prime minister from 1981 to 2003. But with ongoing trade tensions between the US and Asia's new economic giant China, he appears keen for Malaysia to diversify its market partners.
During his visit to Ankara and Istanbul, the prime minister was shown Turkey’s array of defence products as well as produce. In a news conference yesterday, he shared his love of Turkish fruits, disclosing that he could not stop eating them.
Dr Mahathir also told the state-owned Turkish news agency that Malaysia has more to offer Turkey than palm oil products.
“We need to identify all the products of Turkey which can be exported to Malaysia and vice versa. Malaysia also would like to export more than just palm oil to Turkey,” he was quoted saying.
In his visit, he had offered to share Malaysia’ automotive tech knowledge with Turkey to build its own national car.
The Turkish news agency noted that Dr Mahathir had previously mooted using gold as a currency in order to offset reliance and manipulation of foreign exchanges.
The Malaysian leader also proposed for Malaysia and Turkey to use their own currencies in bilateral trade, or conduct a barter system.
“Currently we are using the US dollar. But it may be possible for us to do barter trading or even decide to use our own currencies,” Dr Mahathir told the Turkish news agency.
Dr Mahathir arrived in Ankara last Thursday for the first official visit of his current term as prime minister of the Pakatan Harapan government.
The prime minister and his entourage was joined by Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, and the Malaysian ambassador to Turkey Datuk Abd Razak Abdul Wahab.
Among the issues to be discussed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit include international relations, defence, trade and investment.