The year 1997 saw the drastic changes in local scenarios. Foreign direct investment fell at an alarming rate and Ringgit depreciated substantially from MYR 2.50 per USD to much levels lower (up to MYR 4.80 per USD at its bottom) as capital flowed out. The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchangeís composite index fell from approximately 1300 to nearly merely 400 points in a few short weeks. In response, the Malaysian government imposed capital controls and pegged the Malaysian Ringgit at 3.80 to a US dollar while refusing economic aid from International Monetary Fund (IMF) which came with austere lending conditions. By refusing aid and thus the conditions attached thereof from the IMF, Malaysia was not affected to the same degree in the Asian Financial Crisis as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Regardless, the GDP suffered a sharp 7.5% contraction in 1998. It however rebounded to grow by 5.6% in 1999. The Government of Malaysia predicted 5.8% real GDP growth in the year 2000, but most analysts predicted growth will exceed 8% for the year.

In order to rejuvenate the economy, massive government spending was made and Malaysia continuously recorded budget deficits in the years that followed. Economic recovery has been led by strong growth in exports, particularly of electronics and electrical products, to the United States, Malaysia's principal trade and investment partner. Inflationary pressures remained benign, and, as a result, Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, had been able to follow a low interest rate policy. Later, the country enjoyed faster economic recovery compared to its neighbors though in many ways, the level of pre-1997 affluence has yet to be achieved.

The fixed exchange rate regime was abandoned in July 2005 in favor of managed floating system within an hour of China's announcing of the same move. In the same week, Ringgit strengthened a percent against various major currencies and was expected to appreciate further. As of December 2005, there has been no further appreciation of the ringgit. In spite of the large positive current account surplus, foreign reserves have started to fall at a rapid rate. Official statistics released in March 2006, confirmed capital flight of more than USD 10 billion. However, as of the 4th fiscal year, a surge of FDI has pushed the KLSE above 1200 points, and is expected to strengthen to pre 1997 levels.[7]

As of 21 May 2007, the Ringgit touched a nine-year high record at 3.39 against the US dollar. Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz says the ringgit moves up on its own merit and in line with the Malaysian economy and not in tandem with the Chinese Yuan. Malaysia has shown the ability to absorb the crude oil price increases and most economies have shown high resilience in absorbing higher energy prices.


Malaysian exports in 2006

Malaysia is an important trading partner for the United States. In 1999, two-way bilateral trade between the U.S. and Malaysia totaled U.S. $30.5 billion, with U.S. exports to Malaysia totaling U.S.$9.1 billion and U.S. imports from Malaysia increasing to U.S.$21.4 billion.

Malaysia was the United States' 10th-largest trading partner and its 12th-largest export market. During the first half of 2000, U.S. exports totaled U.S.$5 billion, while U.S. imports from Malaysia reached U.S.$11.6 billion.

The Malaysian Government encourages Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). According to Malaysian statistics, in 1999, the U.S. ranked first among all countries in approved FDI in Malaysia's manufacturing sector with approved new manufacturing investments totaling RM5.2 billion (US$1.37 billion). Principal U.S. investment approved by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) was concentrated in the chemicals, electronics, and electrical sectors. The cumulative value of U.S. private investment in Malaysia exceeded $10 billion, 60% of which is in the oil and gas and petrochemical sectors with the rest in manufacturing, especially semiconductors and other electronic products. In the first six months of 2007, Malaysia's total trade increased by 2.2% to RM522.38 billion, compared with RM511.11 billion in the same period of 2006.

The Malaysian Government is negotiating free trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, and the United States and officials have expressed desire for free trade agreements with Singapore and Thailand. The governments of Malaysia and Chile began negotiating a free trade deal on 19 November 2006.[8]

The Malaysian Trade Ministry released a statement in Vietnam saying that the FTA "has the potential to increase trade, investment cross flows and economic cooperation between the two countries. The agreement would also serve to make Chile a gateway for Malaysia's exports to the Latin American market."[8]

On November 8, 2007, Malaysian and Pakistan signed a bilateral Free Trade Agreement which will come in force on January 1 2008. Malaysia will cut tariffs on 140 lines while Pakistan will cut 124 lines. Most tariffs and duty is expected to be eliminated by 2012. [9]