In the second article of a two-part interview series, BizTech Times speaks to Datuk Dr. Tan Tat Wai, Honorary Treasurer of Rubber Trade Association of Penang (RTAP) on its role in Malaysia’s economic development and how the industry evolved to what it is today.

Kindly click here to read the previous article.

The death of the Aceh-Penang trade in the early 1960s eliminated four out of five re-millers and scores of packers on the island.

“The Malaysian government’s initiative in promoting Standard Malaysian Rubber (SMR) to replace Ribbed Smoked Sheet (RSS) rubber caused a large number of rubber packers to go out of business. The initiative had killed most of them on the mainland side,” said Datuk Dr. Tan, Honourary Treasurer of Rubber Trade Association of Penang (RTAP) 

Consequently, Penang’s standing as a rubber business centre gradually eroded. As a result, fewer businessmen were involved in the rubber trade.

“The introduction of Malaysia Rubber Development Corporation (MARDEC), Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA) and other measures to increase farm gate price also forced many rubber traders to abandon rubber trading and diversify into manufacturing and services industries.

“After some 50 years, very few of the second, let alone third generation had much knowledge or interest in participating in rubber trade.”

Besides the inherent issues within the rubber sector ecosystem, major Thai and Chinese rubber-producing companies were also aggressively acquiring Malaysian SMR companies in order to consolidate their world market share.

Unlike the fragmented industry structure pre- and post-World War Two, the focus today is on big producers. This diminished the need for a regional trade association, he said.

In the early 1960s, RTAP was instrumental in co-leading Penang business associations to lobby the government on Penang’s Free Port Status. RTAP managed to get the government to waive rubber export and other duties from the island. Instead, it collected duties only on rubber produced from the island.

An Advocate for Arts, Education & Culture in Penang

Apart from business, RTAP also played a significant role in promoting education, arts & culture and social activities in Penang. Many of RTAP’s members were also active directors on the boards of major Chinese schools such as Chung Ling High School, Penang Chinese Girls’ School, and Phor Tay School.

These schools, which had modest beginnings pre- and post-World War Two, grew in stature and size in the Malaysian education landscape. In a way, RTAP indirectly played a key role in defining and providing Chinese education in Penang.

One major institution that had a symbiotic relationship with RTAP was the Penang Peng Seah (Peking Opera Society of Penang). The society was founded in December 1946 by several RTAP directors who had keen interest in Peking Opera. In its 20 over years of existence, Peng Seah held 17 public performances to raise money for Chinese schools, St. Nicholas Home for the Blind and other worthy causes.

Source: Penang Tourism

There was “the age-old tradition of giving back to society.”

RTAP donated generously to schools, hospitals, government-related foundations, orphanages, old folks’ homes and charitable organisations.

“This has continued throughout its hundred-year history,” Datuk Dr. Tan said.

It is a spirit that continues to be upheld within RTAP until today. Many of its late leaders served in various capacities in schools, hospitals, and other social and educational institutions, using their influence as rubber businessmen to raise funds and make donations.

“RTAP was very much the commercial, cultural, educational and social nerve centre of the Penang Chinese society from the 1950s to the 1980,” said Datuk Dr. Tan.