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The Malaysian Rubber Industry

Malaysia is among the world's top three rubber producers, having grown rubber trees for more than 140 years since they were introduced in the 19th century. Today, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia collectively provide about 70% of the global rubber supply, with Malaysia being the world's third-largest single supplier.

Crude oil is used to produce natural and synthetic rubber – the price of natural rubber is linked to the cost of the synthetic variety.

Rubber Gloves

©qiujusong / Adobe Stock


National industry

Rubber trees grow over a total of 1.07 million hectares and plantations own 7.21% of the land. The remainder is managed by local smallholders, larger multinationals and joint ventures with Japan, Europe and the United States.

The smallholders own in total 90% of the land where rubber trees are grown. Individually, however, their plots of land are generally less than 40 acres each. During periods when rubber prices are decreasing, the smallholders will concentrate on other uses for their agricultural land - a cause for concern for the industry as a whole, as it means production goes down.

The rubber industry is so important to Malaysia that two official organisations have been set up to oversee its production and export: the Malaysian Rubber Board and the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia.

The industry also produces speciality rubber, such as deproteinised natural rubber (Pureprena) and epoxidised natural rubber (Ekoprena). These types of rubber capitalise on the growing trend for more environmentally friendly products and their uses include the production of "green" tyres and high-performance engineering products.


Malaysian rubber origins

The production of up to five million tons of rubber per year in Malaysia is possible as a result of the foresight of British colonists who planted the first rubber trees in Singapore in 1877. Plants were obtained from Brazil, Sri Lanka and Kew Gardens in London.

Ten years later, Malaysia had many thriving rubber plants, as they were growing in an ideal climate. Soon, rubber trees were growing even in the remotest parts of south-east Asia in cultivated plots. By the 1890s, production increased dramatically, as world demand for rubber grew.

Along with tin, rubber became Malaysia's biggest export at the turn of the century and by the 1930s, the nation was single-handedly producing around 50% of the planet's rubber. Subsequently, Malaysia became Britain's richest colony.

Many of the people of Chinese and Indian heritage living in Malaysia today are descendants of the workers who emigrated to the colony to find the abundance of work on the rubber plantations. Throughout the 20th century, rubber was a massive industry that was growing continually.


Rubber industry today

Many rubber products relating to the healthcare industry were being produced in Malaysia by the 1990s, including surgical gloves and catheters. Malaysia produced around 60% of the world's latex gloves in the 1990s, when demand peaked - reportedly due to hospitals treating more patients with HIV and AIDS.

At that time, there were around 300 factories in Malaysia producing latex gloves. Today, the number is 80, but despite this decrease, the industry is still booming. The rubber industry had carried out research to make the gloves with chlorine, rather than a protein that could cause allergies for some users. Rubber surgical gloves are more comfortable than their vinyl and nitrile counterparts, which are also said to be more likely to leak than latex.

In 2013, it was reported that the manufacture of condoms had boosted Malaysia's rubber industry after the world's largest condom manufacturer, Karex Industries Sdn, expanded its capacity. Malaysia fought off competition from Vietnam and Thailand to win the business.

Goh Miah Kat (whose great-grandfather started the company as a small shop on a rubber plantation in Malaysia in the early 20th century) said the demand for condoms was continually growing, which was great news for the rubber industry!

Recognising the importance of rubber production as the national industry, the Malaysian government offers financial incentives for manufacturers of rubber products. It has further fine-tuned the incentives to recognise and reward specific activities in the industry. Local companies who reinvest to expand their projects can attain Pioneer Status and benefit from Investment Tax Allowance.

Coruba is one of the UK's leading providers of high-quality rubber matting and other rubber products. For enquiries, please call 01702 560194 or info@coruba.co.uk.

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