YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris Raja Kamarudin is a true visionary. As Chairman of MREPC, his drive to elevate the rubber products industry is second to none. He believes that with the right balance of ideas, innovation and invention, the industry, and the Council can continue to thrive for decades to come.

International Business Review speaks to the man himself to learn about his plans to create and add value to the Malaysian rubber products industry, the change that he envisions for the industry and what it takes for that change to become a reality.

Stretching Two More Decades

MREPC is an agency under the purview of the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC), tasked to promote and market quality and sustainably produced rubber products. The Council has firmly established its role as a facilitator for the industry, with Malaysian rubber products being exported to over 195 countries worldwide.

The Council provides support to Malaysian rubber manufacturers with the aim to increase capacity and enhance industry competitiveness. This is done through a series of seminars, conferences and trade shows accessible for industry members. At the same time, MREPC initiates a number funding programmes such as the Fund for Automation and Green Technology.

The successes of the Council is also a product of exceptional leadership of Chairmen who has driven MREPC’s vision through good and trying times. Now, the baton is passed to YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris, whose world view is exactly the push the Council needs to brace a new decade.

For YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris, it is time that MREPC redefines its role into the future in order to move forward with the industry. “Where do we position natural rubber in the next 20 years? How do we develop from where we have been, where we are today and where we want to go?” There are big plans for the Council to play a more proactive role, within the scope prescribed in the Charter, to enable the industry to stretch its limits.

A Strong Ecosystem

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), the rubber industry contributes 2.8 percent to national GDP in 2018. Furthermore, the export earnings of Malaysian rubber products amounts to RM23.3 billion in 2019 alone.

While Malaysia is the number one exporter of rubber gloves, our exports of other rubber products are still lagging behind other countries. In order to rebuild our position internationally, the industry needs to focus its efforts on value addition and value creation.

We need to look at the whole supply chain, from the upstream, midstream to the downstream and see where we can value add,” YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris explains. This involves empowering businesses within each section of the supply chain, and strengthening capabilities to ensure a cohesive and high value ecosystem that feeds off one another.

YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris highlights that Malaysia is experiencing a sluggish midstream. As such, the Malaysian rubber products industry is missing an important bridge within its value chain as a strong midstream is required to enhance the downstream. Lacking the input required, the downstream will need to import processed rubber, in place of locally produced materials. If this continues, the midstream will be gravely underdeveloped.

At the same time, Malaysia cannot merely rely solely on the upstream, as we will lose out on the value added activities by focusing our exports on rubber alone. “If we remain, and always remain as a commodity exporter, we will not be able capture the added value,” he succinctly explains.

Thinking Outside the Box

In order to enhance the competitiveness of Malaysian rubber products, the industry has to be bold and open to work together with other stakeholders. This is where MREPC comes in, beyond the conventional marketing and promotional activities, in attracting these players into Malaysia to collaborate with local manufacturers through smart partnerships.

Through MREPC, we can create smart partnerships with scientists, universities, innovators and inventors. It does not have to be here, it could even be with someone from the Silicon Valley”, YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris notes. The idea is to promote technological transfer as well as research and development to increase the productivity, quality, yield or shelf life of Malaysian rubber products.

In the aspect of value creation, YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris urges for a shift in how we perceive rubber and rubber products. “Have we explored all the things that could be made up of rubber?” he asks.

As case in point, he narrates that as he was staring a plug socket during a meeting, he wondered why most plugs are made of plastic, when rubber is the best insulator for electricity. He was surprised to learn later on, that there are many rubber plug manufacturers in the United Kingdom.

This showcases that the industry needs to think outside the box and reevaluate the possibilities and potential of day-to-day uses of rubber. “We need to believe that rubber is a product that will remain”, YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris urges. Therefore, the industry should leverage on the opportunities that are made available in this day and age, in order to ensure that Malaysian rubber products adapt to the shifts in global trends and demand.

The endeavour sounds grand, but it is not impossible, especially as there are already mechanisms in place to kick-start this initiative. Launched in September 2017, the MREPC Industry Linkage Fund is a programme to fund market-driven research projects between the Malaysian rubber products industry with universities and research institutions.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel,” YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris remarks. “We need to work with people who have done something and are successful at it. Why should we spend the next five or 10 years trying to figure out how they did it, when we can go to them and ask, ‘how do you do it?’”

The National Interest

The path towards a high value industry is one that requires collective effort – between the Council, the Ministry, the industry members and relevant stakeholders, and the spirit to bring about that change needs to be inculcated within all relevant stakeholders of the Malaysian rubber products industry.

YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris acknowledges that this cannot happen through wishful thinking. “It requires a lot of planning and strategising. There is no way MREPC can do this alone”. As such, he highlights that dialogues and engagement with industry members are pivotal for the Council to learn what they have done right, and where they have failed. This will allow MREPC to reflect on its successes and failures, and to do better in the future.

For YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris, the growth of the rubber products industry is not only the interest of the Council, but also a national interest. “So long as the rubber industry survives, so will the nation”, he remarks.

YM Raja Datuk Haji Idris is firm in in his mission to ensure that MREPC remains relevant in the development of the Malaysian rubber products industry for the next 20 years to come. His wisdom and experience is set to materialise the Council’s aspiration for the industry to survive, come rain or shine.