KUALA LUMPUR: The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) stretching 688km will be among key elements in boosting Malaysia’s economy as it gives a competitive edge, as well as attract foreign investments, especially from China, former Transport Minister Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat said.
He said being part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the ECRL would provide greater opportunity for the economic growth of the country, especially for the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia.
“The east coast states hold great economic potential, but it is facing a set back due to limited access to transportation infrastructure, particularly rail infrastructure. Not only the ECRL is needed now, the development of the project should be expedited due to its significance to the country,” he told Bernama in an email interview.
The rail link — scheduled for completion in 2024 — would connect Port Klang in Selangor to Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan, cutting across Pahang and Terengganu.
Ong, who is also Malaysia-China Silk Road Business Chamber Chairman, said the ECRL is something absolutely new idea it was planned way back in 1980s and revisited in 1999.
“Let’s imagine, if we could implement the ECRL project 10 years ago. (But) 10 years ago we were looking at the needs for this infrastructure but for some reasons we could not do it.
“Suppose it had been implemented 10 years ago, I am fully confident that the economic scenario would have been much different (now). Perhaps now we have reaped the benefits of this Belt & Road Initiative since it was implemented in 2013 by China, covering Southeast Asia, including our country.
“But even now, it’s not too late if we can speed up the implementation of this project.
“If our country chooses to delay this project, then I think the golden opportunities, especially those arising now, with the Belt & Road Initiative, will be missed. This means, now is really the most relevant time.
“The ECRL is not only relevant to Malaysia’s economic growth but also gives us a competitive edge over other countries in the region as it will cut the time and cost of transporting our products, especially to China,” he said.
Touted as a game changer, the ECRL is being developed in two phases and will have 26 stations, consisting of passengers, freight and combined passengers and freight stations.
The revenue from the ECRL operations is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30 per cent passengers and 70 per cent freight.
Ong also said that the ECRL would also act as a catalyst for more aggressive economic growth for Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang and help close the economic gap between the states in the east coast and west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
“The ECRL will also open more economic opportunities to explore in multiple sectors, including tourism. The east coast region has a lot to offer in terms of tourist attractions. Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang will be able to attract more tourists as it will be easier and more convenient to visit these states with the ECRL.”
According to statistics from the Ministry of International Trade and Investment, China remained as Malaysia’s largest trading partner for the ninth consecutive year since 2009. In 2017, Malaysia’s trade with China increased by 20.6 per cent to RM290.65 billion.
Exports to China rose 28 per cent to RM126.15 billion while imports rose by 15.5 per cent to RM164.5 billion. China also remained as Malaysia’s largest import source with 19.6 per cent share of total imports in 2017.
According to CNBC, China reported a 7.9 per cent jump in exports and 15.9 per cent rise in imports — both in dollar terms — in 2017. It was the world’s largest trading nation from 2014 to 2015. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 7.3 per cent, 6.9 per cent and 6.7 per cent, respectively.
Per capita GDP reached RMB53,980 (RM33,144) in 2016. In the four quarters of 2017, China’s GDP grew by 6.9 per cent in the first two quarters and 6.8 per cent in the last two quarters, resulting in an average growth of 6.9 per cent in 2017. — Bernama