Malaysia is one of south-east Asia’s most remarkably growing economies following years of political stability and vibrant growth in its industrial sectors. Malaysia is a multicultural society with a vast majority of Muslim population in most of its states, and a large economically powerful Chinese population.

Ethnic Malays comprise some 60% of the population. Chinese constitute around 26%; Indians and indigenous peoples make up the rest. The communities coexist in relative harmony, albeit with occasional racial interaction (BBC).

The Malays remain the dominant group in politics while the Indians are among the poorest. Ethnic Chinese hold economic power and are the wealthiest community. Ethnic Malays have benefited from positive discrimination in business, education and civil services since the early 70s.

NZ- Malaysia bilateral relationship

We have a close and significant relationship with Malaysia including strong ties in trade, education and security. NZ & Malaysia have a history of friendly and constructive links based on a shared membership of the Commonwealth, the Colombo Plan and shared security interests as part of the Asia-Pacific region. New Zealand deployed troops twice to Malaysia - during the "Malayan Emergency" (1948-1960), and during the "Confrontation" period in the 1960s.

Right from these early connections, our relationship has grown, and today Malaysia is important to New Zealand for strategic, political and economic reasons.

New Zealand will be taking advantage of immediate opportunities to work with Malaysia to strengthen the existing relationship.

People and education

Almost 4,800 Malays live in New Zealand, and a further 1,850 immigrants who identify as Malaysian Chinese have made New Zealand their home. More than half live in Auckland.

Education has long been a feature of our relationship with around 2,000 tertiary students from Malaysia studying in New Zealand each year. NZ is working to attract more Malaysian students and make New Zealand a first choice for foreign study. In 2013 an Arrangement on Higher Education Cooperation was signed between the two countries.

Trade (2014 Statistics)

Total trade in goods $3.2 billion
Exports to Malaysia $987 million Top exports: milk powder, malt extract, butter and dairy spreads and sheep meat
Imports from Malaysia $2.2 billion Top imports: crude petroleum oil and electronic products – televisions, computers and cell phones
Trade ranking 8th
GDP US$337 billion
GDP growth 5.9%

Malaysia is our eighth largest trading partner and our second largest within ASEAN. Two-way trade has increased 57% since the Malaysia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (MNZFTA) came into force in 2010. Further opportunities for trade promotion activities are constantly being explored.
Malaysia is among the world's biggest producers of computer disk drives, palm oil, rubber and timber. It has a state-controlled car maker, Proton, and tourism has considerable room for expansion.

Malaysia's economic prospects have been dented by the global economic downturn, which has hit export markets hard. In March 2009 the government unveiled a $16bn economic stimulus plan as it sought to stave off a deep recession. Concerns have been raised that the drive towards further industrialisation could pose a serious threat to the environment. The Borneo rainforest is under pressure from palm oil plantations, and environmental campaigners have expressed misgivings over wholesale logging in the state of Sarawak.

Environmental activists have also objected to plans for a rare earths processing plant in the state of Pahang. The country also faces the challenge of sustaining stability in the face of religious differences and the ethnic wealth gap. Malaysia's human rights record has come in for international criticism. Internal security laws allow suspects to be detained without charge or trial. (BBC)

Free trade agreements with Malaysia

Our trade relationship is helped by our two free trade agreements:

  • Malaysia NZ Free Trade Agreement (MNZFTA)
  • ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA)

We are also negotiating two more regional free trade agreements that include Malaysia:

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  • Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

NZ Inc ASEAN strategy

As a member of ASEAN, Malaysia is included in the NZ Inc ASEAN strategy. NZ Inc is the Government’s plan to strengthen New Zealand’s economic, political and security relationships with key international partners.

Sources including South East Asia Division, MFAT & BBC