MALAYSIA raked in RM113.3 billion from plantation commodity exports last year, the best ever performance, as global demand for vegetable oils, rubber and cocoa butter surpassed supply.
To a certain extent, the higher demand was also fuelled by the weakening of the US dollar against the ringgit.
Malaysia's plantation-based commodities comprise palm oil, rubber, timber, cocoa, tobacco and pepper. In the last decade, the commodities sector was the nation's second largest contributor after manufacturing. Since then, the exports had also tripled in value.
The US dollar forms the basis for major index of commodity prices. Hence, Malaysia's plantation commodity exports like palm oil, rubber, timber, cocoa and pepper are quoted in the greenback. Last year, the US dollar weakened by 11 per cent against the ringgit from RM3.45 to RM3.06.
Dompok said palm oil earnings of RM62.85 billion had made up the bulk of the country's plantation commodities exports last year. High palm oil prices have contributed to high exports. Last year, palm oil prices averaged at around RM2,700 a tonne, slightly less than RM2,800 a tonne in 2008.
The minister was speaking to reporters in Putrajaya yesterday after witnessing the signing of agreements between Malaysian Rubber Board and Felda Rubber Industries Sdn Bhd and Mardec Bhd on the commercialisation of renewable industrial rubber called Ekoprena and Pureprena.
He noted that last year's most improved performer was the rubber sector. It jumped 49 per cent to RM24.67 billion from 2009's RM16.59 billion, thanks to soaring natural rubber prices.
As crude oil prices soar above US$100 (RM305) a barrel, Dompok anticipates slightly more output of natural rubber because tyremakers use both synthetic and natural rubber. Current high rubber prices will motivate smallholders to tap their rubber trees more frequently.
"Rubber tappers are likely to harvest close to a million tonnes this year. We can't go too far from that level because we only have about one million hectares of rubber plantations. They are the same old trees," he said.