Malaysia consists of two similarly sized regions in southeast Asia: Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo). The country shares it borders with Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Malaysia shipped US$247.3 billion worth of products around the globe in 2018. That figure represents roughly 1.4% of overall global exports estimated at $17.546 trillion one year prior in 2017.
Almost three-quarters (72.2%) of Malaysian exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 10.6% was sold to importers in Europe. Malaysia shipped another 10.3% worth to North American customers with 4.1% going to Oceania (mainly Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, Papua New Guinea).
Smaller percentages went to customers in Africa (1.9%) and Latin America (0.9%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Malaysia’s Top Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 15 of Malaysia’s top trading partners, countries that imported the most Malaysian shipments by dollar value during 2018. Also shown is each purchasing country’s percentage of total Malaysian exports.
- Singapore: US$34.4 billion (13.9% of total Malaysian exports)
- China: $34.4 billion (13.9%)
- United States: $22.5 billion (9.1%)
- Hong Kong: $18.5 billion (7.5%)
- Japan: $17.1 billion (6.9%)
- Thailand: $14.1 billion (5.7%)
- India: $9 billion (3.6%)
- Vietnam: $8.5 billion (3.4%)
- South Korea: $8.3 billion (3.4%)
- Australia: $8.3 billion (3.3%)
- Taiwan: $8 billion (3.3%)
- Indonesia: $7.9 billion (3.2%)
- Germany: $7 billion (2.8%)
- Netherlands: $6.4 billion (2.6%)
- Philippines: $4.2 billion (1.7%)
Well over four-fifths (84.4%) of Malaysian exports in 2018 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
Leading the supplier gains for Malaysian imports from 2017 to 2018 were six Asian nations: Hong Kong (up 67.4%), Taiwan (up 47%), Vietnam (up 32.7%), South Korea (up 26%), Thailand (up 20.4%) and China (up 17.8%).
There were two declines among Malaysia’s top trading partners, the -2.1% dip for Indonesia and the -1% slowdown for Japan.
As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.
It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.
Malaysia incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:
- China: -US$9 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2018)
- Taiwan: -$7.7 billion
- Saudi Arabia: -$3.5 billion
- France: -$2.5 billion
- Indonesia: -$2.1 billion
- Switzerland: -$1.9 billion
- South Korea: -$1.3 billion
- Brazil: -$1.1 billion
- Argentina: -$1.1 billion
- Ireland: -$857.1 million
Among Malaysia’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Malaysian deficits with Indonesia (up 196.1%), Saudi Arabia (up 130.8%) and France (up 57.6%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Malaysia’s competitive disadvantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Malaysia to develop country-specific strategies to strengthen its overall position in international trade.
Malaysia posted an overall $29.8 billion surplus on goods traded during 2018, up 32.2% from the $22.6-billion surplus one year earlier.
Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.
Malaysia incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries:
- Singapore: US$9.9 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2017)
- Hong Kong: $7.9 billion
- United States: $4.6 billion
- Netherlands: $4.4 billion
- Australia: $2.9 billion
- Japan: $2.6 billion
- Turkey: $2.1 billion
- Mexico: $1.9 billion
- India: $1.8 billion
- Philippines: $1.8 billion
Among Malaysia’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, Malaysian surpluses with Thailand (up 270%), Vietnam (up 220.9%) and Hong Kong (up 89.1%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.
These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate Malaysia’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Malaysia to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.
Companies Servicing Malaysian Trading Partners
Seventeen Malaysian corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Malaysian companies that Forbes included:
- Axiata (communications equipment)
- IOI Group (food processing)
- MISC (shipping company)
- Petronas Chemicals (specialized chemicals)
- Petronas Dagangan (oil, gas)
- Sime Darby (rubber, industrial/energy products)
Wikipedia lists some other large international trade players for Malaysia:
- Hup Chong Furniture SDN BHD (bedroom furniture, beddings, miscellaneous wooden furniture)
- Ly Furniture SDN BHD (furniture, furniture parts)
- POS Malaysia Berhad (paper bags, envelopes)
- R1 International Malaysia SDN BHD (latex, transmission belts, natural rubber in smoked sheets)
See also Malaysia’s Top 10 Imports, Malaysia’s Top 10 Imports and Malaysia’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 2, 2019
Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on March 2, 2019
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on March 2, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Malaysia. Accessed on March 2, 2019
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 2, 2019