KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 4): Malaysia must look into further diversifying the applications of its agricultural commodities through research and development, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Research is key for the industry to progress and discover new opportunities through new products, he said.
He cited the example of Malaysia's rubber industry, which ventured downstream into supplying final products like rubber gloves over the years.
"We have neglected [production of] rubber in favour of oil palms... Now I think we are no longer the biggest producer of rubber in the world, [but] we are the biggest rubber glove producer in the world.
"It is not rubber that is important, it is its application that is important," he said. "Certainly, more research could yield even more usage for plants that we can grow in this country."
Dr Mahathir was speaking at the opening ceremony of the ninth International Rubber Glove Conference and Exhibition (IRGCE).
Concurrently, the Malaysian Rubber Gloves Manufacturers Association (Margma) reiterated that the nation aims to export 168.8 billion pieces of rubber gloves worth RM18.8 billion this year.
Margma president Denis Low Jau Foo said figure is an increase from 150 billion pieces of rubber gloves worth RM16.2 billion, exported in 2017, up from 120 billion pieces worth RM13.1 billion in 2016.
"We are in an industry that one day could be a leading [one] in Malaysia, because the world is talking about 15% growth in demand for rubber gloves each year," Low said.
Margma's estimation puts Malaysia's market share in the industry at about 63% of about 268 billion pieces required globally in 2018.
"The US, which is the world's largest market for rubber gloves, currently consumes 144 pieces per capita.
"With a combined population of 2.5 billion, now China and India use 12 pieces per capita combined... Can you imagine just these two countries use just one-third of what the Americans are using?" Low said.
"We are in the right industry; we are definitely in the right country, and definitely in the right business," Low added.