Interview: Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng
How can Brunei Darussalam foster relationships with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to encourage more investment and tourism?
PEHIN DATO LIM JOCK SENG: Brunei Darussalam and GCC states share many political, economic and religious traits that give rise to opportunities for stronger economic cooperation and could also position the Sultanate as a viable investment partner and a potential tourism destination.
Given our similar economic structures and a shared vision for economic diversification, I believe there are synergies between Brunei Darussalam and the GCC would make us natural partners. Such collaboration could prove beneficial to our diversification efforts, and could also open opportunities to explore joint investment in other countries as well.
On tourism, there is much that Brunei Darussalam can offer. Our upscale luxury accommodation facilities, our Islamic heritage and ancient rainforests show great potential attracting tourists from the GCC. Furthermore, the direct daily air linkages between Bandar Seri Begawan and Dubai make the Sultanate easily accessible. So while we have all the right factors for attracting tourism, government-level cooperation will need to be supported by efforts to encourage private sector actors, such as the airlines and tourism operators, to take advantage of the opportunities.
What impact have increasing food prices had on Brunei Darussalam’s trade development strategy?
PEHIN LIM: Like many other countries around the region, and indeed around the world, rising food prices have led to a reassessment of domestic food security policies, and the Bruneian government has undertaken a number of significant steps that will ensure the availability and affordability of food supplies.
In 2009 the government announced an ambitious plan to achieve 60% self-sufficiency for food by 2015. This is an important goal, given that we currently imports some 80% of our food needs, including 97% of our daily staple, rice. The Sultanate is already practically selfsufficient in egg and poultry production, but still has a lot of work to do when it comes to meeting demand for beef, fruit and dairy. We have been undertaking practices to ensure aspects of food security for many years, including the operation of cattle farm in Australia to help meet our domestic demand for beef.
As a food-importing nation, Brunei Darussalam is sensitive to fluctuations in the supply and price of food.
In the past, some food-supplying nations have restricted their exports, which has proven to be problematic.
Therefore, with this in mind, Brunei Darussalam has concentrated its efforts on working to diversify its sources of food supplies.
We are also making efforts to increase the range of products produced domestically with export potential.
The launch of the Brunei Halal brand encompasses an ever-increasing range of processed foods targeted not only at the domestic market, but the international market as well.
Furthermore, as part of our medium- to long-term strategy, work is under way to establish the Brunei Agro-Technology Park. It will aim to establish Brunei Halal brand’s certification and testing procedures, which will conform to international standards. By leveraging this high-quality halal certification process and technology, our strategy could increase Brunei Darussalam’s agricultural exports, satisfying both the demands of the country and the regional market.
What is being done to promote the “Made in Brunei” brand abroad and increase exports?
PEHIN LIM: As an oil-dependent country, Brunei Darussalam has explicitly stated economic diversification as a major policy objective. Like most countries, local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a key role in the diversification of the economy. As such, SMEs promoting Made in Brunei products have been identified as a catalyst for economic diversification.
To enhance the development of local SMEs into competitive and viable businesses both domestically and internationally, the government provides various forms of assistance, such as finance for entrepreneurial development and investment incentives.
In line with the government’s strategies, the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) has formulated development programmes and initiatives for SMEs, ranging from developing micro-businesses to steering local enterprises towards internationalisation. Such initiatives include the Local Enterprise Applications and Products (LEAP) programme, which provides SMEs with grants to finance the development of prototypes for innovative Made in Brunei products.
In addition to LEAP, the Promising Local Enterprise Development Scheme was also introduced by the BEDB as a means to aid local companies to expand and internationalise beyond our borders through networking opportunities, mentoring and financial assistance.
In an effort to encourage the development of entrepreneurs working in the information and communications technology (ICT) field to develop Made in Brunei products and applications, the BEDB established iCentre, the country’s first ICT incubation centre. Together with this initiative the BEDB also introduced the AccelX venture capital fund to support the development and expansion of promising Brunei-based high-tech companies beyond the Sultanate.
Under the One Village One Product initiative of the Ministry of Home Affairs, local SMEs are encouraged to develop economic projects in villages, ranging from traditional handicrafts and agriculture to seafood production and ecotourism. In relation to the initiative, BEDB launched a venture called the Village Enterprise Financing Scheme that is aimed at providing financial assistance to local community members to increase productivity and support the commercialisation of their village products.
The Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) also acts as a pro-active enabler of development for SMEs and locally produced products through its various divisions and initiatives that aim to facilitate the development of SMEs and promote local products. In further efforts to promote locally made products, MIPR and the Ministry and Foreign Affairs and Trade invites and assists local SMEs to participate at international exhibitions to expose and promote their products.
Finally, the Buy Brunei Portal, www.padian.com, which was developed by a local technology consortium, is the country’s first online business facilitation and marketing portal, which will serve as an alternative platform to promote products and partnership between local and international businesses.
As Brunei Darussalam assumes the ASEAN chair in 2013, what are your main priorities for the region?
PEHIN LIM: Brunei Darussalam will carry forward the good work of past ASEAN chairs by implementing decisions, blueprints and actions plans. Progress here can only be achieved collectively and with strong support from our dialogue partners.
Effectively, this means taking an inclusive approach, in which we consult our partners and manage their expectations, especially with regards to our work in the political-security context, which underpins our work in the other two pillars.
Stability is essential for community building, especially when we look at building an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). With current developments happening outside our region, it is more important than ever that we trade and do business within ASEAN. This would no only help us grow and improve the livelihoods of our people, but may also help everyone else too. In this final approach to introducing the AEC in 2015, it is essential we continue our efforts resolutely.
The more connected we are, the more we need to focus on building understanding and trust among our people, especially our youth, who make up 40% of ASEAN’s population. There are many ways to do this, such as tapping into the experience of others, like the UN and its Alliance of Civilisation or by supporting initiatives like Malaysia’s Global Movement of Moderates.
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