June 15, 2024

New Malaysia Times

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Poland-Malaysia ties reach 50-year milestone

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 13  — The importance of Malaysia to Poland is growing alongside other ASEAN countries, said Poland’s Ambassador to Malaysia Professor Krzysztof Dębnicki.

In an exclusive interview in conjunction with Warsaw-Kuala Lumpur’s 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year following the establishment of diplomatic ties on June 21st 1971, he said that at the time, both countries subscribed to different ideologies, but much has changed since then.

“As we often talk about the growing importance of Southeast Asia in the world, we would be remiss not to recognise the key role Malaysia plays, both economically and politically. What is more, trade figures clearly indicate where our interests lie: Malaysia is Poland’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN and our trade keeps on expanding,” he explained in the interview which touched on a wide range of issues such as trade, education, defence, tourism, and political ties.

Dębnicki said that with Poland’s own importance in Central and Eastern Europe on the rise, the country hopes for a mutually beneficial and solid bilateral relationship with Malaysia “which I strongly believe, is in the interest of both our nations”.

Recalling the past history of the Cold War era, the ambassador explained that due to the fact that the diplomatic ties were formally established when Poland was under the communist rule, Poland-Malaysia relations could only truly develop after Poland succeeded in 1989 in its struggle to liberate itself from the destructive domination of the Soviet Union.

“Our relations intensified in the 1990s and 2000s, when we saw many visits at the highest levels and a marked increase in bilateral trade and people-to-people contacts. Since then, our relationship has been steadily intensifying, notably in the area of trade with the establishment of a MATRADE (Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation) office in Warsaw and of the Polish Foreign Trade Office in Kuala Lumpur,” he pointed out.

BILATERAL TRADE TIES

As both countries are in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic since early last year, the question concerning the impact of this situation on bilateral trade was posed to the ambassador.

Contrary to what could be intuitive – considering the impact of the pandemic on the global economy – the Polish ambassador’s reply concerning the volume of bilateral Poland-Malaysia trade was positive.

“While our commercial ties were strong before the pandemic, your readers might be surprised to learn that the year 2020 has been a record year for our bilateral trade,” Dębnicki said.

According to Polish statistical data, the value of bilateral trade in goods has grown from around US$1.22 billion in 2019 to over US$1.5 billion in 2020. Poland is a key buyer of Malaysian palm oil in Europe.

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“(It is) worth noting the important increase in Malaysia’s exports to Poland during that period. Coming out of the pandemic, I believe we should work together to exploit possible synergies and make our trade relationship more balanced,” Dębnicki said.

Talking about the current state of the Polish economy, the ambassador said that he was very proud of the way Poland has overcome the economic hardships.

“The structure of our economy, combined with decisive steps taken by the Polish government and the perspective of substantial recovery funds at the national and European levels, have allowed our economy to quickly bounce back. While we unfortunately experienced a significant loss of life due to the pandemic, at over 75,000 deaths, we have been one of the world leaders when it comes to the vaccination rollout (with over 14 million fully vaccinated). Our economy is booming and most restrictions have now been lifted”, he said.

Poland, a country of some 38 million people, despite experiencing a contraction of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2.8 per cent in 2020, is now projected to grow at over 5 per cent in 2021, “which is even more optimistic than previous forecasts by many international institutions”.

“We also can boast of the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union (3.1 per cent in April) and are universally seen as a very attractive investment destination,” he further said.

According to Dębnicki, both Polish investment in Malaysia and Malaysia’s investment in Poland have been well below their potential.

He explained that while recent years have seen investment from Polish companies in Malaysia, notably in the IT sector, some more substantial investment projects have been halted due to the pandemic.

“On the other hand, Malaysian investment has so far been limited to some commercial real-estate and one plant. I believe there is much more to be done. The Embassy of Poland is working together with the Polish Foreign Trade Office to promote closer investment cooperation between our two countries”, said Dębnicki.

POTENTIAL AREAS FOR INVESTMENT

Dębnicki, in replying to another question about potential new areas of cooperation in the future, shared what Poland can offer to Malaysian investors.

He stressed that the Polish economy is experiencing fast-paced development in many fields and there is a lot of potential for increased trade and investment. Adding that while Poland is a large exporter of electrical and electronics (E&E) products and food, the country is also increasingly pioneering innovative technological solutions in a number of areas.

“Many have heard of the Polish video-games industry, but other notable areas investors should pay attention to is cybersecurity, FinTech, smart cities, drones, green technologies, water technologies, MedTech and AgriTech. In all these areas, we have concrete and innovative solutions which I believe can help to address many problems seen in Malaysia, from water issues and forest fires through the banking sector to food processing. I know for a fact, that many Polish companies are currently exploring possibilities to introduce their technologies to the Malaysian market,” he said.

The ambassador proudly highlighted Poland’s attractiveness as a destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which he said is being universally recognised.

“In fact, Poland has recently been ranked number three in the world CEO Magazine’s ranking of the ‘10 best countries to invest in post-COVID’. All throughout the pandemic, we managed to attract high-value investments and have regularly occupied top spots at the top of FDI tables. Our cities and our Special Economic Zones have been regularly ranked as among the best places to invest in Europe,” Dębnicki said.

PALM OIL — POLAND A KEY BUYER

To a question on the outlook of Poland’s purchase of palm oil from Malaysia in the coming years, as the country has been a key buyer of Malaysian palm oil in Europe, Debnicki was optimistic, pointing to the fact that palm oil is the most imported oil to Poland – and Malaysia is the main exporter of this commodity, both crude and refined, to his country.

“Based on current trends, in my opinion we should not expect significant changes in the Polish demand for oil in the coming years. In fact, as our economy is coming out of the pandemic, our demand is likely to increase further,” he said.

Alongside other oils, palm oil is commonly used in the Polish food industry as well as in the chemical and cosmetics industries.

According to data provided by the Polish Statistical Agency (GUS), the value of Poland’s imports of Malaysian palm oil increased from PLN 2.79 million (over RM3 million) in 2018 to PLN 17.69 million (over RM19 million) in 2020.

This is an increase of over 500 per cent in value in just a couple of years. Of course, this is only a fraction of the entire import as Poland buys Malaysian palm oil primarily from middlemen in other European countries, he said.

“Trade in palm oil is but one example showing that – pandemic or not – our trade is experiencing steady growth and Poland is becoming an important market for Malaysian commodities,” the ambassador said.

Dębnicki added that since palm oil is a commodity, which is replaceable with other oils, price will play a key role in determining the future demand for palm oil.

He also pointed out an important aspect, which should not be overlooked, is the sustainability of palm oil production, which is increasingly taken into account by regulators and consumers alike.

“As part of the European Union, Poland is working together with other Member States and the European institutions to ensure the best solutions for our shared environment and sustainable economic growth”, the ambassador said.

EDUCATION

Education is another important area of cooperation, which in recent years witnessed increasing number of Malaysian students pursuing higher education in Poland.

Dębnicki said at the moment, both sides are working to complete the Polish-Malaysian MoU on higher education that should give a boost to a closer and more structured cooperation in this area.

According to best available data, over 1,000 Malaysians have completed their education in Poland.

‘’We are really proud that Malaysian students chose to study in Poland in increasing numbers, most of them in medical studies. They are now among the frontliners keeping us safe at the time of the pandemic. In my personal opinion, there is no better example of the close ties and growing cooperation between our two peoples,” he said.

In 2019, the embassy organised the first edition of the “Malaysian Alumni of Polish Universities’ Get-Together’ in Kuala Lumpur.

The ambassador said that currently, despite the pandemic restrictions, around 200 Malaysian students are studying in Poland and the country is observing an increase in interest among youth wishing to study at polytechnics and other universities.

“I believe that our offer for Malaysians is increasingly attractive as Polish higher education can deliver high quality courses in English and because living costs in Poland remain more interesting than in other European countries,” he said.

DEFENCE COOPERATION

Touching on another important topic, Dębnicki agreed that Poland attaches great importance to defence cooperation with Malaysia and hopes that these relations continue to develop.

Dębnicki said when it comes to defence, one aspect of Poland-Malaysia ties which he believes deserves more attention is military education cooperation – including, for instance, the exchange of students of National Defence Universities or of instructors from the United Nations Training Centres.

“Enhancing this aspect of our relationship would be a milestone in our cooperation,” he said.

He further stated that the Malaysian defence equipment market is attractive for the Polish defence industry and Poland can offer the Malaysian Armed Forces modern, reliable, and battle-proven equipment for a reasonable price.

“The Polish portfolio includes, among others, various radar systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Man-Portable Air-Defence systems (MANPAD) and a wide range of optoelectronic observation and aiming devices with laser, night vision, and thermal vision technologies,” he said.

The ambassador further added that Polish companies also offer various digital communication platforms as well as battle management and fire control systems.

“When it comes to achievements, I have to mention the well-known Malaysian Army tanks PT-91M PENDEKAR with support equipment made in Poland (by BUMAR – currently Polish Armament Group – PGZ S.A.) and delivered to Malaysia between 2008 and 2010”.

“Moreover, the new APC GEMPITA being produced in Malaysia is also equipped with a digital communication platform (FONET) made in Poland by WB Group. It is a very modern hardware solution for tactical ground vehicles. Last. but not least, are radiometric detection gateways delivered some years back,” he said.

PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE RELATIONS AND TOURISM

As both countries looked back on their past achievements in their five decades of bilateral ties, Dębnicki was also asked about people-to-people relations and the outlook for cooperation in areas such as culture, sports and tourism.

The ambassador explained that tourism is one of the biggest opportunities to boost people-to-people contacts and according to available data, the statistics of Polish tourists arrival in Malaysia pointed to an upward trend, reaching around 25,000 arrivals in 2019.

“This is impressive given the lack of direct flights between our two countries. Based on pre-pandemic trends and taking into account growing disposable incomes in Poland, in my opinion it seems unavoidable that Poles will increasingly look at Malaysia as a potential holiday destination,” he said.

“Similarly, pre-pandemic we could see an uptick in the number of Malaysians travelling to Poland. We hope that Poland can become a permanent fixture on the itineraries of Malaysians visiting Europe. While we boast beautiful nature from rugged peaks and clear lakes in the South, primeval forests in the East and white beaches in the North, I believe our best selling points are in fact our numerous vibrant and safe cities as well as our food. I invite all Malaysians to come try our specialities, including an increasing range of meat-free, vegetarian, vegan and halal options throughout the country,” he said.

In recalling past history, unknown to many Malaysians, Dębnicki explained that although Poland and Malaysia established diplomatic relations in 1971, their contacts date back to the 17th Century when the first Pole – Jesuit missionary Wojciech Męciński – arrived in the Malay Peninsula.

“After him, a number of Poles were travelling to this part of the world. Probably the best-known Pole to come to the Malay Peninsula was world-famous author Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (known as Joseph Conrad). Our contacts intensified further during World War Two and in its aftermath, as both our peoples fought on the side of the Allies,” he said.

Dębnicki said in terms of culture, before the pandemic the Embassy of Poland in Malaysia has been very active in organising a range of cultural events ranging from seminars with famous adventurers, food festivals to classical and jazz music concerts.

“We have had much time to plan exciting events for when pandemic restrictions are finally lifted. In the meantime, we organise regular online events and contests, so do not wait until social activities resume and follow the Embassy of the Republic Poland in Kuala Lumpur on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter”, he said.

To access the special website for the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, please visit  www.PL50MY.com.

BERNAMA