Catalyst for healthy trade ties

TIME has always been of the essence for Bruce Cleghorn and, with the minutes ticking away, the outgoing British High Commissioner has taken on a frenzied pace in Kuala Lumpur. 

The 60-year-old envoy, whom aides described as a caring but no-nonsense boss, will be ending his illustrious 32-year diplomatic career in June. 

Cleghorn: Will end his 32-year diplomatic career in June.

But do not ever doubt his resolve to keep plodding on until he waves goodbye. 

“There is still quite a lot to do before I leave Malaysia, where I’ve spent a total of seven years in two diplomatic stints. I’ve been involved in a range of activities and things remain as vibrant as ever,” he said in an interview. 

Cleghorn, who was posted here in November 2001, served as deputy high commissioner to Malaysia from 1992 to 1994. 

The envoy, known simply as Bruce among close associates, can lay claim to many successes. Taking trade relations to new heights will be among his achievements. 

Cleghorn can take credit for having actively promoted trade with Malaysia, with healthy annual growths in trade volume. 

Malaysian exports to the UK have been rising, but the British also have reason to smile – their sales here have also registered sharp increases.  

Britain, the world’s fifth largest trading nation, counts Malaysia among its most important trading partners. Trade Partners UK, the overseas trade and investment arm of the British Government, had named Malaysia as one of its 14 target markets worldwide. 

“Trade has been a very important part of our relations. Trade in goods favour Malaysia, but trade in services and other invisibles favour the UK. 

“We export to Malaysia about a third of what we export to Japan, which has an economy about 80 times bigger than Malaysia’s. This shows how important the Malaysian market is to Britain,” emphasised Cleghorn. 

Last year, the UK exported about RM6.5bil worth of goods to Malaysia, with Malaysian exports to the UK doubling that. 

“The ratio is 2-to-1 in Malaysia’s favour. Although Malaysia sells twice as much as it buys from us, what is more important to Britain is the fact that total trade volume is increasing,” Cleghorn said. 

The UK’s top exports here include electrical machinery and appliances, vehicles and other transport equipment, power generating machinery and equipment, telecommunications and sound recording equipment, iron and steel, and medicinal pharmaceutical products. 

Malaysia is also Britain’s third largest market for wooden furniture. In the financial sector, HSBC and Standard Chartered are key players. 

In terms of investments, Britain ranks as a top European investor here, investing heavily in the petrochemicals industry through British Petroleum and Shell UK. 

“Shell is continuing to invest heavily in Malaysia. It has achieved remarkable success in terms of finding new oil exploration spots, especially off East Malaysia,” said Cleghorn. 

The continuing steady flow of trade missions from the UK to Malaysia proved that Britain was focusing on Malaysia, he said. 

UK missions have been arriving to pursue, among others, contracts in waste disposal, environmental and educational contracts, while other missions have been coming to recruit agents and source for business partners. 

More than 100 British companies attended the largest oil and gas conference and exhibition in Asia, OGA 2005, held in Kuala Lumpur last June.  

The UK, which has an outstanding oil and gas supplies and service industry, had the largest national group at the exhibition. There are over 50 British enterprises operating in the oil and gas sector in Malaysia. 

Britain is a world leader in sub-sea production, process equipment, gas distribution, safety and environmental management, and for manufacturing excellence. 

In January, Cleghorn said the High Commission, with the assistance of Petronas, organised a seminar on deepwater development to further promote the UK’s expertise in the oil and gas industry. 

“January was a quite a significant month. British IT company Intec Systems opened its new office at the Petronas Twin Towers, and Asprey London, a renowned British jewellery and fashion retailer, opened its first overseas branch at Starhill Gallery. 

“This is an example of the range of activity going on between our countries,” he said.  

Asprey has an extensive range of products, which include leather goods, silverware, silk, watches and its signature perfume, Purple Water. 

The envoy said other UK retail firms doing business in Malaysia, such as Tesco, Debenhams and Courts Mammoth, were also doing well. 

The Cambridge-educated Cleghorn said co-operation in the education sector was thriving, adding that the Higher Education Ministry had plans to set up degree awarding colleges for English Language teachers. 

“The British Council is collaborating with the ministry to secure bids for interested British institutions to set up such colleges,” he said. 

Malaysian students, he added, were known for their quality and good performance at British institutions.  

“For example, Malaysians studying under the UK Chevening Scholarship Programme (the British Government's premier scholarship programme) have excelled in their fields of study. 

“We have no hesitation in accepting Malaysian students,” he said, adding that the British Government had allocated over £500,000 (RM3.5mil) for Malaysians to undertake postgraduate studies in the UK under the programme for the 2006/07 term. 

With time running out for Cleghorn here, one can expect the enterprising high commissioner not to leave any stone unturned.  

As British Council director Gerry Liston attests: “Bruce has been exemplary. He has been absolutely tireless in every matter that he has pursued with Malaysia.”  

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