Malaysian PM to enhance trade with Italy during visit

By Ahmad Fuad Yahya, NNN-Bernama

Rome : Efforts to enhance trade and agriculture will be among the highlights of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s three-day visit to Italy which began Sunday.

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Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who is in the prime minister’s delegation, said the two countries are scheduled to sign two memoranda of understanding to signal their commitment on this matter.

He described the visit as very significant as it would be the first time that a Malaysian prime minister would be making an official visit to Italy in 25 years.

Syed Hamid hinted that the two countries may take the opportunity to widen the scope of their co-operation, which now focuses on defence matters, to include other areas.

“We’re keen on linkages in biotechnology as we want to enhance our agricultural sector,” Syed Hamid told reporters here ahead of Abdullah’s arrival.

Besides Syed Hamid, two other ministers are accompanying Abdullah on the trip, namely Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin.

Others in the Malaysian delegation include the chief ministers of Negeri Sembilan state Mohamad Hasan and of Perlis state Shahidan Kassim and Deputy Defence Minister Zainal Abidin Zin.

The volume of trade between Malaysia and Italy now stands at two billion USD, with the balance of trade in Italy’s favour.

Defence technology and equipment forms the bulk of Italian exports to Malaysia. Malaysian exports to Italy include rubber gloves for hospital use.

Abdullah is scheduled to hold discussions with his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, and visit the Italian Islamic Centre, the biggest in Europe, which will receive a contribution of 10,000 euros from the Malaysian government.

“It’s not much but what’s more important is that we’re supporting the centre which we hope will bring about greater understanding of issues relating to Islam and Muslims,” Syed Hamid said.

Prodi might take the opportunity to discuss with Abdullah about developments in the Middle East, especially Palestine, and possibly the Iran nuclear issue, he said.

Syed Hamid said Abdullah was expected to deliver a keynote address at the Malaysia-Italy Business Forum on Tuesday which is expected to attract the participation of more than 200 businessmen from the two countries. Malaysian and Italian companies are also expected to ink several business deals.

“The prime minister’s visit is packed but substantive. The visit is brief but possesses elements that will bring our bilateral relations forward,” he added.

The foreign minister said discussions between Abdullah and Prodi, who have known each other for a long time, may touch on international relations, terrorism and efforts to bridge the civilizational gap between the West and the Islamic world.

The Malaysian leader may get the latest on how the European Union is resolving its problems and shaping its future.

“We’re hopeful that the prime minister’s visit to Europe, which ends in Italy, will enhance relations between Malaysia and the countries involved,” he said.

Italy is the final stop of Abdullah’s three-nation European tour which also took him to Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.