OBG talks to HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Interview: HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah

In what ways do bilateral cooperation and international partnerships contribute to Brunei Darussalam’s economic development?

PRINCE MOHAMED BOLKIAH: Our economic development is naturally shaped by our membership in ASEAN and by the cooperation we have developed with our fellow members. The Sultanate’s goals for economic diversification, which form a key part of its National Plan, depend a great deal on a positive relationship with our partners from around the world. One of ASEAN’s founding fathers, Thanat Khoman, said nearly half a century ago, “As the world progresses, so does ASEAN.” Given the economic and financial world we now occupy, this can be adapted directly to today’s situation. Thus, we participate in meetings with groups like the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Forum for East Asia and Latin America Cooperation and the Asia Cooperative Dialogue, as well as with the nations that constitute them. Khoman’s dictum is true in almost every aspect of cooperation, trade, security, economics, finance, tourism and, perhaps most important, in areas that boost our people’s confidence in the future, such as health and education.

What progress has been made on negotiations for an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and what benefits would it have for Brunei Darussalam?

PRINCE MOHAMED: From Brunei Darussalam’s point of view, negotiations on the TPP are progressing well. Our officials are confident the agreement will essentially be concluded by the end of 2014. If so, this will be a considerable achievement, because the process is complex and involves a wide range of economic considerations. In 2005, Brunei Darussalam was a founding member of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement along with Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. We were four small countries committed to economic development through international cooperation. From this small beginning, membership grew rapidly into the TPP, which now contains 12 current and negotiating members from the wider Pacific region. This expansion demonstrates the confidence that we have in the partnership and its potential for trade. We believe the agreement will bring considerable economic benefits for our businesses and economy as a whole, ushering in opportunities that reach far beyond our current consumer base of just over 400,000 people.

What challenges does the nation face regarding regional integration through the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015?

PRINCE MOHAMED: Despite being a small country, we want to succeed in the vast world of modern trade. This means we must give our businessmen and women the chance not only to enter regional markets but also to take advantage of the global opportunities that ASEAN offers through its free trade agreements. At the same time, we have a duty to help our businesses reach international standards in every aspect of their work. Without this, the markets will be there but our people will not be able to compete. Thus, our immediate aim is to reach the various ASEAN targets set out for 2015.

In what ways can Brunei Darussalam help resolve regional conflicts by serving as a neutral mediator in both ASEAN and greater South-east Asia?

PRINCE MOHAMED: The joint communiqué at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 1999 stated that “all South-east Asians are now part of a single community”, and the special meeting held in 2008 brought the ASEAN Charter into force. So we have an established community and the structure that it requires. Still, ASEAN and the South-east Asian region are more than just countries sharing borders: its 600m people have diverse religions, cultures, languages and, most importantly, resources and national interests. Thus, as a member, we consider diplomacy to be our first line of defence, and that the best way to approach differences of opinion is through consultation and dialogue. For that reason, we will always seek consensus over compromises that may affect any member’s national interests.

Anchor text: 
HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah

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Cover of The Report: Brunei Darussalam 2014

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