Phil Bolton for GlobalAtlanta
Rafidah Aziz, Malaysia’s minister of international trade and industry, is back in the United States promoting her country as a favored locale for foreign direct investment and as a strong trading partner.
In her 27th year as a cabinet member and a fixture in trade negotiations around the world, she has survived political controversy at home and is on a tour of the U.S. and Canada, including stops in Philadelphia, Chicago and Phoenix, Ariz., as well as Toronto.
Ms. Rafidah visited Atlanta last year in February with her usual entourage of Malaysian diplomats, government employees and businesspeople. By the end of the year, Malaysia announced that Ciba Vision Corp., which has a contact lens manufacturing plant in Atlanta, would build a similar plant in Malaysia.
During a filmed interview with GlobalAtlanta in Philadelphia last week, Ms. Rafidah said that following each mission, she undertakes a review of its successes in attracting foreign investment, expanding the number of tourists and developing personal relationships.
Although she hardly could contain her antipathy to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, she said her predominantly Muslim country maintains friendly relations with the U.S. “After Sept. 1, we didn’t stop coming,” she added.
Representing a multiethnic society that with economic growth has been able to maintain political and economic stability, Ms. Rafidah is known for her wit and animated defense of being “a fundamentalist Muslim,” who abides by her religion’s tolerant and progressive tenets.
Her mission attracted more than 300 attendees in Philadelphia including city and state officials who have been cooperating on Pennsylvania’s efforts to raise its profile internationally.
Joe Hoeffel, a former U.S. representative and current deputy secretary for the state’s Office of International Business Development, told the conference that Pennsylvania just increased its budget for international trade activities from $3 million to more than $8 million.
Not to be outdone, Ms. Rafidah wooed the audience with a positive assessment of ongoing free trade area negotiations between the U.S. and Malaysia. “I am confident that a mutually beneficial deal is possible in the very near future,” she said.
She also outlined Malaysia’s vision for 2020, by which time it is to “reach developed country status” in East Asia, the fastest growing region of the world.
Even today her country’s economic statistics look very good, she added, with an expected growth rate of 5.8 percent this year and a projected growth rate of 6 percent for 2007.
In addition, she cited a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, 3.6 percent inflation and a trade surplus for the past 107 months.
U.S. companies have a long history operating in Malaysia, she added, with U.S. investments totaling $9.2 billion in 587 projects.
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