Market overview

Following an early and challenging start to the pandemic, Malaysia has been praised for maintaining relatively low COVID-19 cases and fatality rates. This is despite battling insecureborders and having both a significant proportion of its population classed as vulnerable and larger households in dense living conditions.

Malaysia’s movement restrictions, known locally as the recovery movement control order (RMCO), has been extended until 31 December 2020. Significantly, the restrictions allow interstate travel and the resumption of businesses and activities such as meetings, seminars, weddings, cinemas, and religious gatherings; as well as the reopening of schools and daycare centres.

Tourism related businesses are required to abide by social distancing measures, limit crowds to 200-250 people, check customers' temperatures, wear facial coverings, and provide hand sanitisers.

With tourism the third largest contributor to GDP prior to the pandemic and oil price shocks to contend with, there is substantial debate about whether the Malaysian Government stimulus packages – the most expansive in the country’s history – will be enough to save jobs and the economy.

Further information is available in Malay on the National Security Council website and in English and Malay on the Federal Gazette website.

For more information on doing business in Malaysia, visit myNZTE - our free online portal for curated, in-depth information and guidance.

Video insights

Export support
Last updated: 10 Jun 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: exporter stories from Malaysia, 4 June

NZTE Trade Commissioner, Simon Hearsey, speaks with Inspire Group Asia CEO, James McCulloch, about doing business in Malaysia during COVID-19.

Watch now
Export support
Last updated: 18 May 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Malaysia overview, 14 May

NZTE Trade Commissioner for Malaysia, Simon Hearsey, speaks with BDM Fizal Fauzi and Beachhead Advisor Andrew Goodwin about the situation in Malaysia.

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Export support
Last updated: 14 May 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Malaysia Food & Beverage, 14 May

NZTE Trade Commissioner for Malaysia, Simon Hearsey, NZTE BDM, MiYee Ching, and Beachhead Advisor, Jeremy Ng, discuss Malaysia's F&B market.

Watch now

Economy and trade

Malaysia is bracing for similar economic contraction, high unemployment rates and business failures to those seen in the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, particularly amongst the 98.5% of business in the small to medium size category, employing two-thirds of the workforce and contributing 36.6% of Malaysia’s GDP.

There is cautious optimism for long term prospects, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projecting Malaysia’s real gross domestic product (GDP) to grow at a rate of 9% in 2021, bouncing back after a contraction in 2020. This is the fastest projected growth among ASEAN-5 economies.

However, the Malaysian Retail Chain Association believes consumers will stay conservative post COVID-19, continuing to prioritise spend on essential items and be wary when considering non-essential purchases

Import Performance

During January to April 2020, imports amounted to RM270.14 billion, a decrease of 1.2% from the same period in 2019. Imports of intermediate goods totalled RM144.33 billion, decreased by 2.5%, capital goods (RM32.43 billion, down 1%) and consumer goods (RM23.61 billion, up 0.1%).

Malaysian Banking BHD (Maybank), the country’s biggest financial services group, has forecast the Malaysian economy to shrink 3.3% this year due to the pandemic and the lower price of crude oil.

With the relaxation of movement control orders, most manufacturing operations, especially those linked to medical supplies and devices, are operating at full capacity again. However, should any other New Zealand company face this issue, they should not hesitate to contact NZTE.

Supply chain, logistics & freight

Direct commercial flight links to Malaysia are operating on a very limited schedule. Some indirect air cargo options remain, however, New Zealand exporters must now focus freight transport on shipping options where possible.

Port clearance is open and fully operational.

If issues are encountered both at port clearance or with acceptance of certification, exporters are requested to connect with NZTE for assistance.

Government support

The Prime Minister of Malaysia announced a ‘PRIHATIN Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package’ worth RM250 billion. Of this, almost RM128 billion will be channelled to preserve welfare, RM100 billion to support businesses including SMEs, and RM2 billion to strengthen the economy. Meanwhile, RM20 billion has been announced in the earlier stimulus package. 

Locally, economists are reporting that the second stimulus package (SP2) of COVID-19 amounting to RM250 billion (17%  of GDP, with 1.7%  of GDP as direct fiscal injections) should support growth and provide much-needed support in areas like liquidity, consumption and employment, without putting too much strain on the fiscal deficit. 

SMEs and micro-businesses make up two-thirds of the workforce and contribute 40% of the GDP in Malaysia. Unlike the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC) where shops and restaurants could still rely on social interaction and foot traffic for business, COVID-19 has stripped that advantage away. 

Demand is expected to be weak for some time due to travel aversion and social distancing. Not every small business is equipped to survive this downturn. The drop in consumer and corporate spending will intensify the adverse chain reaction that will fuel the collapse of micro businesses, especially the younger and smaller businesses due to their highly vulnerable situation.

Exports and import demand will stay weak from lockdowns. Commodity prices will be soft.

Many SME businesses have been forced to close their doors, and some may not reopen. With the additional measures, plus the increasing focus on micro businesses, which make up a big share of the SMEs, the support will more likely help reduce bankruptcies and bad loans. 

There could be some relief on job losses, which remain a major concern, although these are expected to vary considerably according to the age and size of the small businesses.

A Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan for June to December 2020 was launched by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassinby at the end of June. The plan focuses on three key objectives, namely to empower people, propel businesses, and stimulate the economy.


Direct commercial flight links between New Zealand and Malaysia are operating on a very restricted schedule.

Air cargo into Malaysia via additional countries remains a possibility, although more reliable shipping routes are likely to be preferred. Linking closely to third party logistic providers to connect to the most efficient supply chain options is a key action for New Zealand exporters at this time.

All people entering Malaysia must bear the cost of mandatory quarantine and are to sign a letter agreeing to pay before they may commence their travel. Malaysians are required to pay half the cost of quarantine services while non-citizens, including spouses and family members of Malaysian citizens, will pay the full cost.

Useful links

Advice to exporters

Air linkages via Malaysia Airlines are available for cargo on a limited schedule. New Zealand companies should look to take advantage of this market access opportunity.

New digital sales platforms and channels are appearing. Exporters should be in close communication with existing distributors seeking these platforms for additional distribution and listing.

Malaysia remains heavily dependent on the importation of food for the population. New Zealand is a key provider of 'fresh', 'chilled', 'organic' and 'healthy' produce into this market. These categories are selling particularly well as people seek foods with positive health connotations.

Tradeshow and event information

Numerous international tradeshows and events are being postponed or cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make sure you proactively check with organisers for any tradeshow or event you're scheduled to attend – conditions and regulations are changing rapidly overseas, and events may be postponed or cancelled at short notice.

If you have questions about an event not listed here, please contact the organisers in the first instance or get in touch with NZTE for further advice.

Sector insights

As is to be expected, numerous sectors have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below you'll find information on any COVID-19 effects across important sectors and industries in Malaysia.


According to the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), the e-commerce growth rate will surpass the 20% growth forecast by the National e-commerce Strategic Roadmap. The initial estimate was RM170 billion; but due to swift changes in consumer behaviour brought on by movement control orders, rates have been higher - and experts predict rates to stay high after the controls end. As a result, e-commerce's contribution to Malaysia's gross domestic product (GDP) is also expected to rise this year with the increase of consumer confidence in digital transactions.

MyGroser (, an independent online grocery service with a growing range of 12,000 items in fresh produce (meats, seafood, vegetables), fruit and dairy, frozen food, dry food, groceries, premium products and daily essentials, saw the demand for grocery delivery grow by over 1000% during the first part of this year as well as revenue and daily number of deliveries made grow. The grocer is capital raising to expand into other cities in Malaysia in the next three years, according to an online report.

Some e-commerce sites have opened up lines in completely new territories to take advantage of the surge in food retail. Zalora, a top clothing fashion site, has launched a new category called Zmart featuring everything from homewares, groceries and healthcare supplies to a wider selection of product categories such as household items, baby supplies, pet supplies, wine and spirits as well as electronics to meet demand and utilise existing delivery networks.

Presto Mall, an online shopping platform, is expanding its needs for last-mile delivery services by engaging LamboMove as a fulfillment agent. According to this report, LamboMove has developed artificial intelligence (AI) technology to determine the shortest route and the fastest time to optimise the delivery process for same day deliveries.

Lazada Malaysia launched a fund with RM10 million to help small and medium enterprises sell products online. The initiative is targeted to help an estimated 50,000 local SMEs, especially those in the fresh food and groceries categories. SME retailers that are new, or have little experience in e-commerce can expect 100% of their costs of selling online covered, and be able to quickly diversify revenue streams beyond traditional bricks-and-mortar models on a platform where one in three Malaysians are Lazada users.

Lazada competitor, Shopee, launched the RM15 million Shopee Seller Support Package, which aids local SMEs and businesses in various sectors including retail, fresh produce, food and beverage and more by driving digitalisation of traditional businesses and bringing them online. The package supports sellers by creating sales and growth opportunities, reducing operational costs and facilitating sustainable development through funding, subsidies and education. According to Shopee, this package has attracted the participation of more than 70,000 local businesses from micro, small and medium to even large enterprises and corporations.

What this means for New Zealand exporters:

For New Zealand companies to compete at the forefront of the new business environment in Malaysia, it is advisable to build internal e-commerce readiness, to strengthen e-commerce foundations, and to leverage e-commerce knowledge.

To grow in the new environment, New Zealand companies should be prepared to think outside the box and challenge their current models in distribution and marketing.

Additional resources

Below you can find information and contact details for other New Zealand government and international agencies regarding their response to COVID-19.

New Zealand Government agencies
COVID-19 helpline for businesses
New Zealand Customs
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
New Zealand Export Credit (NZEC)
MFAT Export Helpline
MFAT Safetravel
Callaghan Innovation
Ministry of Health
WorkSafe New Zealand

Global agencies

World Health Organization (WHO)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Contact NZTE

We're available to talk to you about any issues your export business is facing due to COVID-19.

For existing NZTE customers, please contact your New Zealand-based Customer Manager.

If you're unsure who to contact or haven't worked with us before, you can call NZTE on 0800 555 888 or email below and one of our Customer Advisors will help you.