KUALA LUMPUR (March 25): Malaysia's relationship with top palm buyer India, which soured under former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, is expected to improve after India lifted a 5% import duty on the edible oil, Malaysia's commodities minister said on Wednesday.

India's trade remedial body had in early March recommended the government not to extend the 5% bilateral safeguard duty on imports of refined palm oil from Malaysia, finding it unnecessary in light of new import curbs placed on Jan 8.

Malaysia's political veteran Mahathir lost power late last month.

"The new government sees India's move as a positive step that signals an openness to rebuild a close relationship from the aspect of trade and culture," Malaysia's new commodities minister, Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali, said.

India has been the biggest buyer of Malaysian palm oil for five years, but imports trickled to a halt after it restricted imports of refined palm and informally asked traders to avoid Malaysian palm, which traders said was in retaliation for Mahathir's criticism of its policy affecting its Muslim minority.

Mohd Khairuddin said Malaysia recognized the need for the two countries to discuss the import curbs and a trade imbalance in favour of Malaysia.

Malaysia will send a delegation to India after the coronavirus pandemic is over, the minister said.

Malaysia's exports to India dropped 54% last month from January, according to Malaysian Palm Oil Board data.