OBG talks to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam

Interview: His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah

Raising the level of private sector participation in the economy is key to the diversification from the oil and gas sector that is already under way in the Sultanate. What policy measures are in place to accelerate the pace of growth in the private sector? In which specific sectors do you see additional opportunities for investors?

HIS MAJESTY SULTAN HAJI HASSANAL BOLKIAH: We are moving ahead with our diversification efforts. My government is currently looking at five key clusters which are in the export-oriented manufacturing and services sectors such as halal food processing, halal pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, oil- and gas-based petrochemicals, information and communications technology and high-tech industries, as well as air and sea logistics, aviation and oilfield services. Underpinning this economic diversification is a commitment to support private sector development.

Our private sector largely comprises small and medium-sized enterprises whose development requires strong support from the government. To further encourage growth, my government has made numerous efforts to enhance the business environment in Brunei Darussalam to make it even more favourable for investors in the business community, such as corporate tax reductions and tax breaks. We are also working on a policy to promote healthy competition between players in the business arena.

In addition, my government is also ensuring that adequate support is made available, such as financial support in the form of grants, loans, venture capital and training schemes, as well as other physical infrastructure where appropriate. This is to encourage wider participation by quality business players, especially among local entrepreneurs.

To further develop and increase the opportunities for private sector participation, my government is also assessing the appropriateness of privatising some public services and encouraging more business participation in infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships. Lastly, my government will continue to play its part to ensure domestic regulations and policies are pro-enterprise and pro-business for private sector development, such as recent amendments to the bankruptcy act and patent act.

Where would you like to see more involvement from foreign investors? What is the appropriate business model for international firms wishing to participate in Sultanate’s economic development?

HIS MAJESTY: Brunei Darussalam always welcomes foreign investors and companies with the right credentials to set up businesses, especially in the identified clusters. Foreign investors tend to bring useful knowledge and allow for the transfer of skills to locals, which will improve our capabilities and skills in the long run.

Therefore, we highly value any foreign investment proposals and new technologies and research and development (R&D) capabilities, including those that can help in the development of alternative energy and agro-technology sectors. We also want to build expertise in international marketing for our products.

Foreign investors that have the edge in their own markets can help address this knowledge gap. This knowledge will be useful and can become a catalyst for locals to get involved actively as entrepreneurs, joint-venture partners or even as highly skilled employees.

My government is also focusing on a number of investment activities, which would add value and optimise the use of our existing resources, such as those at the Sungai Liang Industrial Park ( downstream oil and petrochemicals products) and Pulau Muara Besar (oilfield support services).

Furthermore, the recent establishment of the Brunei Darussalam Research Council has engendered hopes that it will to set a path towards encouraging research and innovation in the Sultanate, especially in the field of science and technology, in order to help Brunei Darussalam develop its niche and long-term competitiveness. The increase in R&D funding is expected to attract not only collaborations between the private and public sector, but also to encourage foreign multinational corporations to form strategic partnerships with local agencies and embark on promising and mutually beneficial R&D activities in Brunei Darussalam.

In 2013 Brunei Darussalam will have a historic opportunity to shape the future of ASEAN. What would you like to achieve during these 12 months? In which areas would you like to see greater cooperation between South-east Asian nations?

HIS MAJESTY: Since Brunei Darussalam first joined ASEAN in 1984, the association has been the cornerstone of the Sultanate’s foreign policy; therefore, as we move into the future, Brunei Darussalam will continue working to strengthen and safeguard the central role of ASEAN in the region. The top priority at present is to realise the vision of an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. The future and credibility of the bloc lies largely in member states’ ability to deliver on the common goal of maintaining regional peace, stability and economic prosperity. As Brunei Darussalam assumes the role of chairman at this important stage, it is crucial to maintain momentum, strengthen community-building efforts and enhance our engagement with dialogue partners. We will also emphasise greater collective efforts to advance cooperation under three pillars, namely political security, economics and social-cultural. We are also determined to strengthen our existing mechanisms and efforts to move things forward with our action plans and agreements. This is especially vital to achieving our economic integration targets in a timely manner and in making effective progress in our work under the political security pillar. Furthermore, by promoting principles that are of great importance to ASEAN, namely dialogue, cooperation and solidarity, we will do our utmost to encourage consultation and consensus building without compromising any member states’ legitimate interests or disregarding those of our dialogue partners. Above all, our work for the coming year is essentially to safeguard the wellbeing of the people of ASEAN and ensure that they fully benefit from having an ASEAN community. This is also why we wish to continue promoting greater mutual trust, understanding and tolerance among them, especially the youth.

We recognise that it is the people’s collective efforts and peaceful engagement with each other that are essential to successful community building and in shaping the future development of the region. To this end, we feel that our chosen theme, “Our People, Our Future Together”, is very much appropriate for the chairmanship.

How can Brunei Darussalam capitalise more on the free trade agreements (FTA) signed with other members of ASEAN? In what way can ASEAN become part of the global supply chain?

HIS MAJESTY: Our FTAs with ASEAN and ASEAN’s dialogue partners are part of our overall efforts to create more strategic partnerships with key regional economies. We see them not just as a way to form more linkages in terms of trade and investment, but also as a platform for deeper engagement in many areas of mutual interest and benefit for Brunei Darussalam and our partners.

Our FTAs are certainly something that we promote in order to attract more foreign direct investment into the Sultanate. Potential investors can leverage these FTAs as a tool to gain greater market access for goods and services. In addition, it also allows their potential operations in Brunei Darussalam to be part of the global supply chain.

Our exporters have also begun capitalising on the favourable terms of our FTAs, which we very much encourage. Bruneian firms can benefit from these agreements by better understanding the opportunities that the FTAs present. This will play an integral role in our overall diversification efforts by presenting local businesses with greater opportunities and experience.

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His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah

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Cover of The Report: Brunei Darussalam 2013

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