Limited impact on economy from outbreak, says Azmin

Minister declines to speculate because this is a serious matter which needs to be monitored by relevant agencies and ministries

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

THE coronavirus outbreak is unlikely to have any major impact on Malaysia’s economy unless the situation prolongs, Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali (picture) said.

The country has temporarily barred visitors from affected areas in China as the virus continues to spread across countries with the death toll rising above 100. Malaysia has so far reported four confirmed cases of coronavirus involving Chinese nationals.

“If the situation prolongs, of course there will be an impact to the economy like other diseases before this. But I don’t want to make any speculation because this is a serious matter which needs to be monitored by relevant agencies and ministries,” Azmin said after witnessing the signing of a memorandum between Petroliam Nasional Bhd and Agrobank.

South-East Asia’s third-largest economy is eyeing a GDP growth of 4.5% this year, with tourism alone expected to generate income of RM100 billion under the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign.

Bank Negara Malaysia had recently cut the Overnight Policy Rate by 25 basis points to 2.75% to boost exports and support household spending amid signs of slower global growth. The central bank is scheduled to announce Malaysia’s fourth-quarter and full-year 2019 results on Feb 12.

“I agree that our stock market is quite low against our peers, but our fundamentals are still very strong. What we have done for the past year is to bring back and restore confidence among investors to return to Malaysia and use the country as a gateway to penetrate the Asean market.

“From the statistics that we have received, we can see there is returning confidence to the local market and the recent Transparency International Index rank will only boost it further. So, with strong fundamentals and the return of investor confidence, we feel that 2020 is a better year to see economic progress in the country,” Azmin said.

Meanwhile, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub said the government has taken steps to monitor food imports at all entry points although there is no evidence to suggest the transmission of the Wuhan virus via food.

Malaysia imports over RM50 billion worth of food annually, including vegetables, fruits and meat mostly from China, India, Thailand, India and New Zealand.

“I was informed that the virus is transmitted only through humans. It does not involve food. However, I have ordered the Malaysian Quarantine Inspection Services to monitor all entry points and conduct random inspections on select items, such as meat and fruits, as a preventive measure,” Salahuddin said.

Malaysia does not import food from Wuhan, the minister confirmed. “This is something we have to continuously monitor, be alert about and be ready to take action.”