ASHGABAT - Malaysia hopes to intensify its co-operation with Turkmenistan in exploring the gas industry, taking cue from the central Asian nation's position as the world's fourth biggest in natural gas reserve.
With a landscape largely dominated by desert, Turkmenistan is just behind Iran, Russia and Qatar in having the world's biggest gas reserve. It boasts a supply of 17.5 trillion cubic litres of the sought-after commodity.
"We hope to widen our co-operation with Turkmenistan in this field," said Malaysian ambassador to Turkmenistan Norman Muhamad yesterday, ahead of a two-day official visit here by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Petronas has been the only Malaysian body to participate in the gas industry here since 1996 although Malaysia is looking at having more companies on board.
Najib is due to arrive later today for the official visit at the invitation of Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to further strengthen bilateral relations, partnership and expand participation in several fields, particularly oil and gas.
This is Najib's second visit since July 2011 to Turkmenistan, which is Malaysia's third largest trading partner in the region.
Since the last visit, trade between the two nations had grown from US$24.27 million (S$30.4 million) in 2011 to US$33.3 million last year.
Norman said there was a clear indication that Turkmenistan is pushing to further intensify bilateral relations and is looking for ways to have a more varied trade with Malaysia.
Najib is scheduled to have a four-eyed meeting with the president and the leaders will witness the signing of several agreements and memoranda of understanding in the areas of culture and education.
The leaders are also scheduled to talk about increased co-operation in the halal industry since Malaysia is the pioneer in the field.
"For us, Turkmenistan has a lot of potential and we should explore our opportunities fully," Norman said, adding: "Turkmenistan can be made our partner of central Asia in this area."
The two countries established diplomatic relations in March 1992 and Turkmeistan is looking to have more tourists visit the country. Only 940 Turkmen visited Malaysia last year.
A Foreign Affairs Ministry statement said there are 144 Turkmen students enrolled at Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) and private colleges, mostly in technical and hotel management courses.
Najib will be accompanied by wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar.