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Emergence of Omicron variant to further boost rubber glove exports, says Zuraida

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 30): Exports of rubber gloves are expected to increase further amid the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant and Malaysia will ensure a sufficient supply to the world, protecting its market, said the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin said the variant had not spread into the country but it had affected several countries abroad.

''As we are the main producer of this product, we have seen the export of rubber gloves increase when the world (and our country) is hit by this pandemic.

''This is because of the nature of low supply and high demand, hence we experienced good sales,'' she told Bernama after attending a Bernama Bulletin interview programme on Bernama TV in conjunction with the first 100 days of Aspirasi Keluarga Malaysia.

She said the rubber glove industry would not be affected in terms of production, but the issue of a labour shortage is a major problem for industry players.

As such, Zuraida said she had consulted with the Cabinet to come up with a more sustainable mechanism to ensure the country have an adequate supply of foreign workers.

“This will be done via a government-to-government (G2G) arrangement directly and this will be our midterm goals. As for the immediate term, we will try to get foreign workers for the rubber glove factories early next year.

“Malaysia will continue to compete with producer countries such as China and Indonesia but both countries have large populations.

''Malaysia only has a population of 32 million, so it is unlikely that we can produce enough gloves for the global market with limited workers,'' she said.

It was reported that shares in rubber glove makers rose on Monday (Nov 29), led by Top Glove Corp Bhd, due to the Omicron variant.

On the same day, the World Health Organization announced that the variant is likely to spread widely.

Meanwhile, Zuraida said Malaysia still needs foreign workers, at least in the next three to five years, especially for the oil palm industry until it had sophisticated mechanisation and more youth participation.

Apart from that, she also said that by using the G2G platform, her ministry would provide more information to foreign countries on labour issues in the country, thus refuting allegations of elements of persecution and fraud in both the palm oil and rubber sectors.

''We will also issue a housing policy for workers in oil palm and rubber plantations and with this policy, the houses of foreign workers will be more comfortable, more in line with standard operating procedures and they will feel more comfortable.''

She said the allegations made by non-governmental organisations from the European Union (EU) were unfair.

“I will bring this issue to the EU next year and will present the things that Malaysia has implemented, so that they are clearer.

''This is important, so that outsiders know that Malaysia is a progressive country and not backward,'' she said.

As of September, the agri-commodity sector had recorded an export value of RM154.7 billion.

The increase in the export value of agri-commodity products was due to higher exports of key products, such as palm oil and rubber gloves.

The value of exports of natural rubber and rubber products increased by 88.5% to RM59.1 billion and palm oil by 43.3% to RM74.4 billion.

Meanwhile, timber exports as the third largest export contributor after palm oil and rubber recorded an increase of 1.2% to RM15.9 billion.