Before independence, the colonial powers in Peninsular Malaysia brought in indentured labourers from India and China to work on railways and rubber plantations. During the British era, the Malays were relegated to minor roles and largely excluded from trade and positions of economic power. They worked as farmers and fishermen. Today Malays are trying to change the imbalances created during colonial times. The government gives Malays and indigenous peoples special economic and political privileges.
Malaysia used to be known as one of the world's largest producers of rubber, tin, palm oil, timber, pepper and petroleum. Since the 1970s, however, Malaysia has transformed itself into a modern, industrialized economy in which manufactured goods, such as semiconductors, are produced for export. 

Today, manufacturing forms the largest single component of Malaysia's economy, although rubber cultivation, tin mining and agriculture are still carried on. Tourism is emerging as a major industry and employs more than a million Malaysian workers. The government is also encouraging the growth of high-tech industries and the use of information technology.

 Did you know? 
The Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur are among the tallest buildings in the world. They are 88 storeys (450 metres) high and form part of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre complex of buildings.
In the early 1990s, the Malaysian economy achieved an annual growth of about 8%, one of the highest in the world. However, instability in East Asian markets in the late 1990s has slowed this growth rate. 

Most city dwellers have jobs in manufacturing, finance, commerce, construction, medicine, and engineering. People in rural areas are mostly farmers, rubber cultivators, fishermen and handicraft producers. 

Women are entering the workforce in increasing numbers, but they often earn less than men for the same job. However, in Kota Bahru, the state capital of Kelanatan, women play a major role in the economy. The markets in Kota Bahru are owned and run exclusively by women.

 Did you know? 
Farmers on the west coast of Sabah are sometimes called "Cowboys of the East" for their skilled horsemanship. They are experts with horses and raise ponies, buffaloes and cattle as well as cultivating rice. Those on the east coast of Sabah are called "Sea Gypsies," because they are fearless sailors.