UK hopes to strengthen cooperation with Sabah, Sarawak

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The British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ailsa Terry, during the interview with The Borneo Post.

KOTA KINABALU (March 3): The British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ailsa Terry, hopes to strengthen cooperation with Sabah and Sarawak.

Terry describes the bilateral relations between UK and Malaysia as excellent.

However, she said that there should be attempts to make it even stronger.

“One of the things I want to do is to build them into a more modern area of partnership around new technology and also to strengthen our cooperation with Sabah and Sarawak,” she said to the Borneo Post on Tuesday.

She added that the UK has a long history in Sarawak and Sabah, although in recent decades, the UK High Commission has focused more at Peninsular (Malaysia).

“I think I want to do more (work) in Sarawak and Sabah,” she said, adding that this would be in the field of climate, and of helping to protect diversity as well as help Sabah and Sarawak make their energy transition, as well as in terms of increasing trade and investment on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Terry also said that they have a few Honorary Councils in Sabah who help them find business opportunities.

“We brought a few trade missions here. But we haven’t done that often. So we are keen to do that and increase the economic link between the UK and Sabah,” she said.

The British High Commissioner was also asked about the challenges she anticipated in managing bilateral relations between the UK and Malaysia and she replied that she felt there were two or three challenges.

“I think one, the world is quite a challenging place, let alone with the conflict in the Middle East, the rise of China, the rivalry between the US and China, the tensions in this region,” she said.

She said the UK and Malaysia relationship is excellent but added that both were open nations, were quite globalised and were dependent on global trade networks and hence, were subject to the big geopolitical changes and economic challenges.

“That is one of the challenges for us both,” she said.

Terry also said that although the UK and Malaysia had a long historical relationship, there is a need for a kind of modern relationship between both nations that does not rely on just the history of the relationship but also in the future and cooperation in new areas.

And with regards to trade, Terry said the CPTPP, which the UK joined last year, can benefit businesses in Malaysia that are exporting to the UK by making tariffs cheaper.

“A company in KL said that the CPTPP can save them 12 million pounds per year,” she said. The company, which was not named, makes electrical buses and exports them to the UK, Singapore and the Philippines.

She added that with the CPTPP, the UK plans on purchasing more products from Malaysia.

Terry also expressed interest in Sabah’s main exports and commodities such as cocoa, stating that cocoa could be exported to the UK and chocolates could be imported from the UK.

Sabah presently has the largest land in the country planted with cocoa at 3,572 hectares.

She also mentioned endeavors in the UK to provide space to producers in the country to use The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO).

“We are working at federal level, but we would like to extend that to Sabah and Sarawak … partly due to the CPTPP, but we work with the Malaysian government to support MSPO, this being the gold standard,” she said.

She added that they are changing the legislation in the UK to make sure that it gives space to producers to use MSPO.

“We don’t recognise any specific country mark but we say you have to abide by the best sustainability standard in the producer countries and MSPO is one of the best,” she said.

She hoped that this would be a real powerful way to grow Malaysian exports and take back the palm oil narrative.

“There’s been negative campaigns about it, how it harms you. We are keen to support the Malaysian government because without palm oil, we will cause more damage to the environment by using soy or something else which is more intensive.

“We think sustainable palm oil is the way to go for the future and we want to work with the Malaysia government and with the Sabahan government to help improve export,” she said.

The British High Commissioner also said the UK travel advisory warning its citizens from visiting islands and dive sites at Sabah’s east coast from Sandakan to Tawau as well as Lankayan Island, is still in place.

She said that this was because they still believe there are kidnapping risks there.

Terry added that the kidnap-for-ransom groups have lessened their activities but they are still active in the region and because of that, the travel advisory cannot be changed.

“I would love it if we can remove the travel advisory but at the moment, according to our assessment, it is still there. But we are working on how we can improve the security situation with Sabah.”

Terry added that this was why they want a closer cooperation between the UK and Sabah security officials.

Although the UK travel advisory is in place to warn its citizens from visiting the areas concerned, she believed that there are still some who go there.

“It does happen and that is why we have the travel advisory in place to warn them to please don’t go to this area. The safety risk is too high. Their travel insurance is invalid if they go there. It is a risk if they do that,” she added.

Terry also said that the UK government has changed its travel advice against traveling to islands and dive sites in the maritime area around Kudat.

She added that she visited the islands around the area 13 years ago.

“I knew how beautiful they were from the experience I had,” she said.

“We still encourage all tourists to look at our travel advisory very carefully before they travel to that region.

We want to make it easier for British nationals to come to Sabah and increase tourism between the UK and Sabah, in a safe way,” she said.

Terry, whose visit to the State Capital recently included meeting Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Hajiji Noor, also said that the issue of forging closer cooperation on security to manage risk and grow tourism over the years to come were among the issues raised with the Chief Minister.

She added that about 25,000 British and Irish tourists come to Sabah every year.

“It is pretty high but I think there is still room for it to grow,” she said.

At the same time, half a million people from Malaysia visit the UK annually, she said.

Terry also said her long-term dream is having a UK university to partner in Sabah.

“I don’t think we have at the moment,” she said.

She added that there are about five or six UK universities in Malaysia but there are all located in Peninsular Malaysia.

Terry also mentioned having a meeting with Lancaster University and the university was in Malaysia due to their interest to expand.

She added that she would talk to them about her trip to Sabah and Sarawak.

During the interview, Terry also encouraged Sabahans with plans to pursue their Master’s degree to apply for the Chevening Scholarship.

“We have had a few candidates from Sabah but never as many as we like,” she said.

She explained that the scholarship allows its recipients to pursue a fully paid one-year master’s degree of his or her choice in the UK.

Terry said that they receive thousands of applicants annually and Malaysia would get about 50 places per year.