InvestKL: Gateway to easy Asia-Pacific investment – Zainal Amanshah

Kuala Lumpur provides one of the best investment gateways into the ASEAN, Asia and Asia Pacific markets. Zainal Amanshah, CEO of government entity InvestKL, explains the advantages afforded to multinational corporations living and working in the Malaysian capital, particularly in light of the country's economic transformation programme.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is looking increasingly attractive to investors across the globe. Situated in the heart of Asia, the region is ideally located to tap into some of the world's fastest growing markets. Bangalore, Beijing, Seoul, Sydney, Taipei and Tokyo are all within a six to eight-hour flight radius.

This geographical positioning does not just provide good connectivity, it also places Kuala Lumpur at the nexus of various cultures, giving rise to a multiskilled and multilingual talent pool. "There are around 700 million people within this ASEAN region, so it's a very large market," says Zainal Amanshah, CEO of government body InvestKL. "They speak Chinese, Indian and Indonesian languages, as well as English."

Location and potential workforce are just two of the reasons behind Kuala Lumpur's popularity with corporations. Already, Malaysia plays host to numerous multinationals, with Citibank and GlaxoSmithKline having operated there for over 50 years.

Since 2009, however, its appeal has been heightened further still, with the introduction of an economic transformation programme (ETP). Designed to lift Malaysia from middle to high-income status by 2020, this programme is in full swing. The government has identified 12 key sectors of growth, including financial services, oil, tourism, electronics, business services, education and agriculture.

It has also drawn up six strategic reform initiatives (SRIs) - spanning topics such as international standardisation, human capital development, liberalisation of entry, public service delivery and fiscal policy - to make doing business in the country easier.

Enhanced ease of business in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is no longer positioning itself as a low-cost financing hub, looking instead for high value-added activities within these sectors.

"In the financial sector, for example, we are one of the leading Islamic banking centres in this region, perhaps in the world," says Zainal, whose company functions as a facilitator. "We've got a very mature infrastructure and ecosystem, enabling us to support financial organisations. Within electronics and electrical, we are encouraging high-tech manufacturing. If you look at agriculture, we are also moving up the value chain."

The 12 sectors of growth are all ripe for investment. Whether a corporation is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur or uses the city as an international procurement centre, there are many ways to leverage local resources. The government has become forceful in channelling grants and incentives into these sectors, with the aim of attracting highly skilled workers and high-income businesses.

"Kuala Lumpur is a world-leading Islamic banking centre."

"The government is taking the attraction of multinationals more seriously," says Zainal. "We're keen to promote easy-to-do business and provide the right incentives. Not only can investors tap into the opportunities within the greater KL area and Malaysia, they can also use this as a platform to grow into the region."

Not that transformation rests solely in government hands. As part of the ETP, Kuala Lumpur has identified 131 entry-point projects, each of which is funded primarily through the private sector. By 2020, InvestKL aims to bring in 100 global multinationals, while helping investors identify the best opportunities available to them and cutting through red tape.

As a package, Zainal believes that Kuala Lumpur represents a highly alluring prospect. While the city is not attempting to position itself as the cheapest in the region, it offers quality living at an affordable cost, along with excellent facilities and infrastructure.

The figures, moreover, reflect its status as an ever-improving place to live and work. In 2011, Malaysia was ranked 21st of 142 countries in the World Economic Forum for Global Competitiveness, up from 26th the year before. Similarly, in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business ranking, Malaysia rose from 23rd to 18th.

As its advantages become increasingly apparent, Zainal believes that Kuala Lumpur will continue along this trajectory.

"KL has a vision of being what we call 20-20 by the year 2020," he says. "That means that, by 2020, we plan to be in the top 20 worldwide, both in terms of liveability and economic growth. We think that our rankings are proof that Kuala Lumpur is indeed very attractive as an investment decision."

The numerous Fortune 500 companies that have set up centres here might well agree.

In 2011, Malaysia was ranked 21st of 142 countries in the World Economic Forum for Global Competitiveness, up from 26th the year before.