Interview: Luwalhati R Antonino
What types of economic partnerships would be most conducive to the joint growth of Brunei Darussalam and Mindanao?
LUWALHATI R ANTONINO: With the advent of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Mindanao, particularly the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is in a strategic position given its direct links to the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and the Islamic products market. For instance, there is strong potential for Mindanao to partner with Brunei Darussalam in the halal industry, as well as food services, food retailing, Islamic banking, logistics and shipping. This is also in line with the Sultanate’s current initiative on the establishment of an ASEAN Halal Food Park, which is being envisioned as the “halal hub of the world”.
What scope is there for regional investment to further develop Mindanao’s agriculture sector?
ANTONINO: MinDA is currently working on the Mindanao Development Corridors, a key strategy that will pave the way for a connected and competitive Mindanao. It is intended to improve infrastructure, strengthen connectivity, and develop agriculture and other industries, allowing the island region to achieve a single, integrated economy that is able to participate in BIMP-EAGA, the ASEAN Economic Community and other international markets. This programme is being implemented with national agencies, local government units, the business community, and technical support from development partners, such as the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
How could transport infrastructure and connectivity in BIMP-EAGA be improved and what advancements have been made in this regard?
ANTONINO: Transport is a critical factor in the exchange of goods and services, as well as in spurring tourism and business activities. The absence of such is an impediment to achieving BIMP-EAGA’s primary goal, which is to increase trade, tourism and investments within the sub-region. However, unlike the rest of the area, it is challenging for the Mindanao and Palawan areas to establish direct connections with neighbouring nations simply because our areas are separated by sea, while the other members are contiguous.
Despite these challenges, significant milestones have been achieved. MAS wings, the designated airline for BIMP-EAGA, is expanding its operations in the area. In terms of maritime links, the Zamboanga and Sandakan shipping service has been operational for the past 20 years, and we are anticipating the launch of the Davao-General Santos-Tahuna-Bitung shipping service in the third quarter of 2014. This will cut travel time for transporting goods between Mindanao and Sulawesi from five weeks to seven or nine days, as well as reducing shipping costs from $2220 per tonne to $550. For road transport, buses connecting parts of Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Indonesia are operational, though other large-scale initiatives are also being pursued.
What short-term growth targets is the MinDA setting for the island and what role can neighbouring nations play in helping achieve them?
ANTONINO: The Mindanao Peace and Development Framework Plan aims to achieve annual GDP growth of 7-8% by 2016. Additionally, by 2016 we are also aiming to cut the poverty rate to at least 30%, pave 90% of national roads, restore forest cover to at least 30% of land area and establish peace agreements among Mindanao’s key stakeholders. All BIMP-EAGA member nations have a significant role to play. I would specifically point to Malaysia’s instrumental role as mediator in the Bangsamoro peace process.
Indonesia has been our partner in the sustainable development of fisheries and marine resources and is also a potential trading partner, while Brunei Darussalam has been a significant help in our investment and development efforts. Our continued cooperation with our neighbours remains key for all BIMP-EAGA members.
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