Malaysia led the global rubber glove production in 2016, manufacturing around 133.6 billion pieces, which represented 63% of the world’s total. Rubber glove exports were worth an estimated RM 14.3 billion, continuing the country’s streak as the world leader in rubber glove production for over two decades running. 2016’s revenues represent 14% growth over the RM 12.1 billion accumulated in 2015.
The global rubber glove industry is expected to maintain strong annual growth of 8-10% over the coming years, including demand for an estimated 55 billion additional gloves over the next five years, primarily driven by increasing consumption in emerging markets. Malaysia could be the largest beneficiary of this increasing demand, as export revenue from rubber gloves is projected to reach RM 15.2 billion in 2017.
Malaysia’s dominance in the rubber glove industry is not simply due to its rich natural rubber resources, as similarly endowed neighbors Thailand and Indonesia have a far smaller market share of 21 and three percent, respectively.
Rather, the rubber glove industry has been specifically targeted for development by the government, and it now comprises over 70% of Malaysia’s rubber product exports. Owing to strong government support to industrialise the country’s natural resources and develop unique competitive advantages, Malaysia has established a leading edge in the still-expanding rubber glove industry.
The use of rubber gloves in the healthcare and food service industries gives the product a consistent market. Particularly in developed countries, the use of rubber gloves for certain activities is mandated by law. Although advanced economies such as the US, EU, and Japan consume about 68% of rubber gloves, growing government expenditure, healthcare needs, and awareness of health-related issues in markets such as emerging Asia, the Middle East, and Africa will drive the industry’s expansion going forward. Glove consumption per capita in Asia is a low 11 pieces per person per year, compared to the worldwide average of 50 pieces per person per year and about 100 pieces in developed markets like the US and EU.
Latex powdered gloves are more frequently used in developing countries, while the more resilient nitrile is favored in advanced economies. As glove use becomes more widespread in developing countries, latex will be the initial beneficiary, though in the long term, nitrile will likely become more popular in these markets. Beyond these two main categories, some companies are experimenting with more customised and experimental products, such as multi-colored gloves and gloves with more than one texture, to innovate and create new markets.
As an industry highly reliant on natural resources – namely rubber and to a lesser extent oil and gas – the costs for producing rubber gloves and their ultimate selling price can be unpredictable.Malaysia also faces competition from lower cost countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand, as labor and operating costs rise.Given these challenges, considerations ranging from resource procurement to technology and innovation must ultimately come into play when investing in Malaysia’s promising, but highly competitive rubber glove industry.