The 7th Asian Retailers Convention & Exhibition, 19 September 1995

This convention is timely and most relevant as the countries in the region have achieved remarkable growth over the last two decades. Whilst the growth rate has been a steady 6-7 percent in the East Asian countries, the rate of inflation has been kept relatively low. The prospect for further growth is still fairly bright on account of the strong fundamentals in the economies of the region and a global economic environment which is generally favourable.

The growth of a vibrant retail trade is a sure sign of the growth of the effective purchasing power of the people. As the society becomes more affluent, the expectations, needs and consumption patterns of the community becomes more complex, demanding and selective. To meet these changes, rapid structural transformation has taken place in the wholesale and retail industries which has led to the emergence of mega malls, hypermarts, supermarkets, departmental stores, chain stores, cash and carry outlets et cetera.

In the early stages of the expansion of modern retailing, these shops mainly catered to the needs of the higher income groups. But over time, they have begun to draw upon a wider market by offering value-for-money goods to the lower income bracket. Because of this development, it has generated the critical mass to sustain the exponential growth of this region's retail industry. We are therefore confident that the industry is poised for further expansion, provided always that the current economic growth of the region is sustained.

In this regard, we would like to stress that the task of ensuring economic growth is one that must be shouldered by all sectors of the economy -- the public sector, the private sector and the consumers themselves. In the context of Malaysia, the government will continue with fiscal and monetary measures to promote growth while at the same time keeping a lid on inflation. The Malaysian government has underlined its commitment to counter inflation by announcing the target of zero inflation. This is indeed a formidable task to accomplish under the present situatiom of economic boom when every businessman would want to maximize his profits in the shortest time possible. While the government will continue with fiscal and monetary measures to combat inflation, administrative controls and enforcement to ensure adherence to regulated pricing and fair business ethics will not have the desired effect of protecting consumer interests without the full support of the trading community.

A number of big wholesalers and retailers have started operation in Malaysia and more are expected to set up business as foreign wholesalers and retailers can see the opportunities arising out Malaysia's growing middle class. With increasing globalization and liberalization of world trade following the successful establishment of the WTO, business is expected to become more vigorous, more dynamic, more complex and sophisticated.

We appreciate and recognize that the presence of foreign wholesalers and retailers, besides adding colour to the local market, could act as catalysts for the modernization of the wholesale and retail industry in Malaysia, especially by introducing new management methods and techniques. They could provide innovative and alternative marketing systems which would increase professionalism in the industry. This could in turn result in an increase in efficiency and productivity and help reduce costs which could be passed on to consumers in terms of improved service and lower prices.

On the part of local wholesalers and retailers, they should rationalize and undertake measures for effective competition. Nevertheless, the government realizes the need to formulate a definite policy for the participation of foreign traders in the wholesale and retail trade in order to ensure the development of an orderly, ethical and fair wholesale and retail market with the active participation of local entrepreneurs. We would like to see local traders being given the opportunity to share the benefits of the growth of the industry, for instance, by way of joint- ventures or franchise agreements.

I believe this convention has emerged as the region's major platform for the players in the retail industry to meet and share their experiences, focussing upon emerging issues and trends of significance for retailers to understand their strategic implications. This forum could also help to create a beneficial networking opportunity to establish new personal and professional contacts and enhance relationships. In the process, industry cooperation and understanding could be developed and market potential as well as business opportunities explored for possible expansion within the Asia-Pacific region in particular.

The exhibition, on the other hand, provides a good avenue for exhibiting current and the most up-to-date products from around the country and the world, including introducing new concepts, systems and designs, and also for concluding business transactions and agreements. As such, participants, whilst competing ethically among themselves, should take the opportunity to share ideas for a healthy development of the industry.

A forum such as this which encourages cooperation not only among retailers but also between retailers and their suppliers, that is manufacturers and wholesalers, could help expand markets and hence export opportunities. This cooperation and expansion of markets would complement the trade liberalization moves under the Asean CEPT (Common Effective Preferential Tariff) scheme as well as that of AFTA (Asean Free Trade Area) and also those under APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

On that note, I now gladly declare this 7th Asian Retailers Convention and Exhibition open, and wish you all good luck and success in your deliberations and businesses.

Thank you.