She said in terms of commodity export earnings, rubber and rubber products were currently the second largest contributor after palm oil.
“In 2017, export earnings from rubber and rubber products contributed RM32.1 billion to national exports, (up by 30.2 per cent from 2016).
“The rubber products industry has flourished from a mere 20 manufacturers in the 1970s to more than 300 today,” she said at the Malaysian Rubber Export Promotion Council (MREPC) Industry Awards Night here tonight.
Kok said 11 of the manufacturers were now major players and were listed on Bursa Malaysia with a market capitalisation of RM33.6 billion.
She also said Malaysia was among the world's top exporters of rubber products, exporting products to 195 countries.
Of significance, Malaysia is the world's largest producer and exporter of rubber gloves and is also among the top exporters of condoms and catheters globally.
“In this regard, I hope the dry rubber products segment continues to chart a more creditable growth in exports.
“These are challenging times. On the external front, the US-China trade conflict, if protracted, could affect global growth and demand. On the domestic front, the private sector has to step up investment to drive economic growth, especially in the downstream sector,” she said.
Malaysia's rubber industry needs to adopt greater automation for increased efficiency and productivity to help reduce dependency on foreign workers, she said, adding that to better compete in the global market, the industry must continuously innovate and add value to its products.
Such investments, she noted would benefit the country in terms of transfer of technology, creating employment for Malaysians, setting up of industries and spurring innovation.
Meanwhile at today's MREPC Industry Awards 2018, 14 winners were adjudged the best in the industry for their outstanding performance and contributions to the country's economy.
This year was the second time MREPC organised the Industry Awards after its first in 2015.
Besides awards for export excellence, this year's event introduced three new categories of awards, namely Most Innovative, Green Business and Best Marketer.
The awards underscore the importance placed on innovation and creativity; sustainable manufacturing through adoption of green practices; and marketing efforts in showcasing Malaysian products to the world.
The rubber and rubber products industry is an important component of the Malaysian economy, supporting some 440,000 rubber smallholders, while 84,000 people are employed in the midstream and downstream activities. - Bernama