Interview: Lim Jock Seng

On a sub-regional scale, what goals are being set in the short-term for further cooperation within the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA)?

LIM JOCK SENG: Brunei Darussalam assumed chairmanship of the BIMP-EAGA ministerial meeting in 2014 and we see this as an opportune time to take stock of progress and gaps in our 20 years of cooperation. There have been positive results under the four strategic pillars of BIMP-EAGA, namely connectivity, food basket, tourism and environment.

However, much remains to be done, particularly in the area of connectivity, which is an important factor towards facilitating the free movement of people, goods and services across the sub-region. This is why have hosted a joint ministerial meeting with the transport ministers in November of 2014 to look into areas where we can further enhance connectivity across the other pillars of BIMP-EAGA cooperation.

Furthermore, we recognise the importance of full participation from all stakeholders, and particularly the participation from the private sector, in providing valuable and practical support towards achieving more desirable outputs for all communities. To date, such engagement has been very encouraging and we are making efforts to further enhance relations with the private sector in this regard.

On this note, we have also organised a dialogue session with the private sector during the joint ministerial meeting to exchange thoughts and ideas on how to move things forward. It is clear that the participation of the private sector is the engine of growth for the development of BIMP-EAGA. Their role and involvement in this process are significant.

What direct opportunities and challenges do you anticipate ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) integration to create within the region?

LIM: As the country with the smallest population in the ASEAN region, we fully support the realisation of a prosperous and economically integrated ASEAN. Hence, we see the work under the AEC as an important opportunity for our business people and investors to tap into a market with a population of over 600m people, effectively the third largest in the world. Furthermore, over the last few years, ASEAN has consistently achieved robust economic growth and has a combined GDP of nearly $3trn, making it the world’s eighth-largest economy.

We have to acknowledge that realising the AEC is an ongoing process and we are currently engaged in discussions on the post-2015 vision.

The realisation of the AEC will not be the end date for our economic integration process and it should instead be seen as a significant milestone in ASEAN’s efforts to work towards the free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour and the freer flow of capital, as envisioned in the 2007 AEC blueprint.

A key principle that underpins the AEC is the free flow of goods, services and investment within the region by 2015. Thus far, on trade in goods, almost all of our goods within ASEAN are already tariff-free and we are working towards addressing non-tariff barriers, which will further expedite the movement of goods across borders and reduce transaction costs.

On services, we are currently on the verge of completing the ninth package of commitments under the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services. Under this framework agreement investors can expect higher commitments, for example through the easing of foreign equity limits in specific sectors.

Meanwhile, for investment, the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement entered into force in 2012. This agreement accords greater protection for investments made within the ASEAN region and also includes transparent lists of investment measures for each ASEAN member state. The realisation of the AEC will result in an even more economically linked region, and this will in turn present additional opportunities for both our investors and our business people.