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Malaysia to control rising food prices amid inflation, minister says

Malaysia is facing inflation and the government is putting in place measures to control rising food prices, the country’s domestic trade and consumer affairs minister told CNBC.

Given the global trend, “we are going to be affected by inflation,” Alexander Nanta Linggi, told CNBC “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday. 

Malaysia’s consumer price index rose 3.2% in December 2021 compared to a year earlier, mainly due to increasing food and fuel prices, according to government data released last week. 

“National inflation for the period January to December 2021 showed a significant increase of 2.5 per cent as compared to a negative 1.2 per cent for the same period in 2020,” according to a statement by the department of statistics.

To mitigate higher prices, the government has taken steps to stabilize prices on “what we consider as crucial food items” such as rice and meat, said the minister.

“By way of subsidies and by way of other assistance,” the government has made sure that people “can buy food items and essentials at the prices that they can afford,” he added.

Last week, Malaysia announced it will set aside 680 million Malaysian ringgit ($162 million) to ensure the price stabilization for essential goods, according to media reports.

Linggi said the pandemic has fueled the country’s inflation problems.

“We had Covid the last two years, like everyone else in the world — and that too has disrupted food supply chains,” said the minister, adding it led to disruptions in the production processing process.

As a result, the cost of production, especially on chicken farmers, “increased tremendously,” he pointed out.

Malaysia reported 5,439 new infections on Thursday, according to data from the health ministry. About 78% of the nation’s total population has been fully vaccinated, based on the data. 

Linggi said Malaysia may keep the price controls on essential items for a longer period of time, “because there is so much pressure on the increase of food prices.”

Despite concerns about inflation, Malaysia’s central bank maintained its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 1.75% on Thursday last week.

“For 2022, average headline inflation is likely to remain moderate as the base effect from fuel inflation dissipates,” the central bank said. “The outlook, however, continues to be subject to global commodity price developments amid risks from prolonged supply-related disruptions.”

The government is working with various ministries to take coordinated steps to rein in inflation, according to Linggi.

“We are working closely in a cluster,” he said, adding his ministry has submitted programs to achieve the objectives set by the Ministry of Finance in order to deal with “what affects the financial aspects of the country.”

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