Interview: HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah
What are the main pillars in the government’s foreign policy for Brunei Darussalam’s role as a mediator between different interests in the region?
HRH PRINCE MOHAMED BOLKIAH: I think our approach to the chairmanship of ASEAN will be as we said when we assumed the role at the start of 2013. We will be following the association’s charter outline of the chairman’s role, and if there are any problems, we will try to solve them as we have always done in ASEAN, by consulting with each other and working together.
In what way is the government developing stronger ties with other ASEAN countries?
PRINCE MOHAMED: It is hard to imagine how we can have stronger ties. ASEAN members are closer now than they have ever been. We have a strong structure, with our three pillars of development: economic; political and socio-cultural; and the overall direction given at the various summits. Personally, I think the challenge is to make sure we keep the original spirit of association by working well together and respecting differences of opinion when they occur. In other words, I hope we will never lose sight of the big picture but, at the same time, we have to make sure that it is always relevant to the day-to-day needs of our people.
How is the economy of Brunei Darussalam capitalising on free trade agreements (FTAs) established between ASEAN and other major trade partners?
PRINCE MOHAMED: The main long-term aim that we have is to diversify our economy. As such, being part of ASEAN’s FTAs is a great help. These open us up to bigger markets and enable us to attract investment for Brunei Darussalam and our fellow members.
It also helps our businessmen and businesswomen feel more confident in the future, as it gives them the chance to gain experience and share expertise at a regional and international level. This is also why we are taking an active role in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as an original member. The FTAs also provide us improved access to other markets outside of the region, in particular, with Asia-Pacific countries. Furthermore, the ASEAN FTAs offer us the opportunity for greater technology transfer and knowledge-sharing from developed countries such as the US.
Complementing this process in achieving enhanced economic integration, we have also recently launched the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, which aims to put in place the largest FTA in the world, comprising over 3bn people.
We have seen the benefits from the various bilateral FTAs and those of ASEAN, and the RCEP will enable us to broaden and deepen our engagement, allowing for significant improvements in these existing FTAs.
Where would you like to see more cooperation as far as Borneo is concerned?
PRINCE MOHAMED: Traditionally, we all have a lot in common with our Bornean neighbours, of course, but we must not forget that three different governments are involved. The most important thing is to have the infrastructure to develop trade and cooperation, especially in agriculture, the environment, tourism and cultural activities. If we can get that set up well, then there is a big future for us all, particularly with regard to our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
That is where our sub-regional growth area under the umbrella of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area, known as BIMPEAGA, comes in. The importance of private sector participation is recognised as being vital for our existing and future efforts, especially in developing SMEs.
Perhaps, the cooperation can be further driven through encouraging partnerships between the public and private sectors in areas that contribute to the development of these very important enterprises. In this way, we can develop the infrastructure we need to enhance connectivity, which would facilitate trade across national borders in goods and services of SMEs, as well as encourage investment within the sub-region.
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