Miami lands Malaysia's Florida trade office
Launch builds on mission to Asia last year

By Doreen Hemlock
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The southeast Asian nation of Malaysia is starting up a trade office in South Florida.

But while the office was first touted for Fort Lauderdale, officials opted instead for Miami, a city with a greater concentration of international business and better known in the fast modernizing, middle-income nation of 25 million people.

"Maybe it's because we watch CSI: Miami in Malaysia," joked Islahuddin A. Hassan, director of the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp., who is staffing the office at the Blue Lagoon complex near Miami International Airport.

The new office underscores Asia's growing weight in the world economy and in South Florida, where trade or consular offices also are operated by Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand.

The launch also builds on a nearly 40-member business mission to Malaysia last year organized by Fort Lauderdale consultant Bernhard Schutte. He operates a partnership in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, for his Fort Lauderdale-based Digital Media Network Inc.

Schutte had suggested Malaysia consider Broward County for its new office.

But officials turned down that plan because, he said, "Most Malaysians have never heard of Fort Lauderdale."

Even so, the new office aims to work with Broward business groups including the Broward Alliance, Schutte said.

A former British colony about the size of New Mexico, Malaysia has emerged as the 10th largest U.S. trade partner, thanks to soaring exports of high-tech goods made by U.S. companies such as Motorola, Dell and Apple.Computer-chip maker Intel Corp., for instance, has invested nearly $2 billion in Malaysian operations that employ about 8,000 people, according to a just released report by Coral Gables-based publisher WorldCity Inc.

In 2005, Malaysia posted $44.1 billion in goods trade with the United States, up 13 percent.

That's more than the United States trades with Italy or Venezuela, according to WorldCity's 88-page report which details U.S. goods trade of $2.58 trillion last year.

From its new Miami office, Malaysia aims to boost its sales of high-tech goods, furniture, rubber products and processed foods to the United States and across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Trade should be stoked too, once Washington and Malaysia wrap up a pending free-trade agreement, Hassan said.

Malaysia already operates trade offices in Los Angeles and New York.

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at dhemlock@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5009.

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