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Malaysia ready to review race policy
Malaysia is ready to review and gradually liberalise its race-based economic policies to promote new investment, Reuters quoted the country's influential trade minister as saying.

"We will slowly liberalise where possible when we are ready, and this will provide new avenues for foreign and domestic investments," Minister of International Trade and Industry Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters on Tuesday.

Muhyiddin, who did not specify which economic sectors would be liberalised, was responding to a call by a top banker, the brother of the incoming premier, who said Malaysia needed to review the New Economic Policy (NEP).

Nazir Razak, the chairman of Malaysia's CIMB Bank and the brother of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said last week that the NEP, which favours the majority Malay population, had damaged national cohesion and hindered investment in this Asian country of 27 million people.

The policy, which is also opposed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was designed in 1971 after race riots to narrow the wealth gap between the majority Malays and the richer ethnic Chinese.

It gives Malays who account for about 60 per cent of the population preferential treatment in certain aspects of business, education and home ownership, although critics say it is now outdated and has led to cronyism and corruption.

Malaysia also has come under pressure from several countries including the United States to open up access to government procurement where the bulk of contracts are given to Malay contractors under the NEP.

Britain has called for Malaysia to liberalise its services sector.

The National Front coalition suffered major losses in last year's general in election in part due to unhappiness over the NEP among Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian population.

Najib is set to lead the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the leading party in the National Front coalition, after the party's polls in March.

Najib, addressing an ethnically mixed audience at an event on Sunday, said the government would make the necessary changes to its policies to regain the people's trust.

He did not specify what changes would be made and political analysts say he will have limited space to push through reforms at a time when the battle for ethnic Malay voters is intensifying.

The coalition has lost two by-elections in the rural Malay heartland in the past six months.

Muhyiddin, who is a candidate for the deputy presidency of UMNO in the March elections, said the NEP was "good" but had weaknesses in its implementation.

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