SUBANG JAYA: Malaysian manufacturers need to acquire new skills and diversify their production base, says Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The Prime Minister said this was preferred instead of being a only nation of consumers who can only import goods at the cost of devaluing the country's currency.
"I can see the future of the country depends on manufacturing, and FMM must encourage their members to study other products that can be manufactured in Malaysia," he said.
This he said, could then be used to build improve the national infrastructure for both businesses and citizens.
He pointed out that while the country used to depend on primary industries such as tin, rubber and palm oil, these sectors were now exhausted or faced a backlash from environmentalists.
"One acre of land can hardly support a man for agriculture, but it can support 500 people if they are involved in manufacturing.
"It's strange for a country that used to be agricultural that at one point, 80% of our exports were manufactured goods," said Dr Mahathir, referring to the late 1990s.
Recalling his recent trip to China where he visited high-tech factories such as a drone manufacturing plant, Dr Mahathir said he hoped to see similar technologies being researched and manufactured here.
The golden anniversary celebrations were also attended by Dr Mahathir's wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali and members of his cabinet, including Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.
FMM president Datuk Soh Thian Lai in his speech outlined four success factors for local manufacturers, including supporting a "buy Malaysian" campaign as a way of boosting domestic sales.
Other factors outlined included clean governance, establishing a business- and investment-friendly environment, and moving up the value chain with high-tech production.
Soh also called on the government to come up with policies to revitalise manufacturing, as the country was suffering from premature deindustrialisation.
"Manufacturing contribution to GDP has dropped from 32.3% in 2000, 30.1% in 2007, 24% in 2008 and has remained stagnant at 23% since 2013," he said.
The federation president also called for direct tax incentives, with greater certainty and transparency, and grants for resource-strapped small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) to encourage investment in technology and innovation.
The evening also saw 2018's best SME and Large manufacturer awards being handed out to medical supplies manufacturer Ideal Healthcare Sdn Bhd and Kossan Rubber Industries Bhd respectively.