Industrial Plan

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Brunei is hoping a programme of integrated development and investment will lay the ground for diversifying the country's economy away from a direct dependence on fossil fuels and foster a strong industrial sector.

At present, one of the only non-energy industries active in the export market is the relatively small textile and garment sector. However, with rising competition across the region, Brunei's textile industry has been losing ground, with exports dropping 15.5% in 2007 to $117m, according to the Brunei Economic Bulletin.

Brunei's vision of expanding its industrial base has been set out in two major policy documents: the sultanate's latest National Development Plan (NDP), spanning the years 2007 to 2012, and the more long-term Brunei 2035, a strategy for the economic and social growth of the nation.

Brunei 2035 sets out the proposals for the diversification of the economy and the increased role industry will play in the Sultanate's future. Under the strategy, unveiled at the beginning of 2008, new employment opportunities are to be created through the promotion of local and foreign investment, especially in downstream industries as well as in economic clusters beyond the oil and gas industry.

To support this, plan calls for the country's infrastructure to be bolstered through both public and private investment, with a particular eye on tailoring such project to the industrial sector.

To achieve these broad objectives, the government has stepped up funding of industrial projects through the most recent five year plan. Of the 2007-2012 NDP's total budget of $6.3bn, $270m has been allocated to industrial development. However, this figure does not take into account increased spending of infrastructure, such as on ports or road links vital to industrial activity in the Sultanate.

Currently, most of Brunei's existing or planned industrial activity is based around the country's rich hydrocarbon reserves, either through the processing of raw materials into refined petrochemical products or through the use of natural gas as the energy source to drive production.

One of the key projects in Brunei's industrialisation programme is the Sungai Liang Industrial Park (SPARK), a multi-purpose development being built on a 271ha site. SPARK is an initiative of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), the state authority set up at the end of 2001 and tasked with promoting economic expansion.

While other industries will be catered for at SPARK, most of the park will be given over to downstream petrochemicals production facilities.

The first of these is due to come on line in 2010, a $450m methanol plant that will use local gas as its feedstock. When fully operational, the facility will produce 800,000 tonnes of methanol, most of which will be destined for the Japanese market.

Combined with plans to construct the world's largest ammonia and urea fertiliser plant, which the BEDB has estimated at around $600m, SPARK could become one of the region's leading petrochemicals hubs. If the project goes ahead as planned, the facility will have a daily output of 2300 tonnes of ammonia and 3500 tonnes of urea.

Another plan that will change the face of Brunei's industrial sector is the proposal to build an aluminium smelter, a project that is currently the subject of a joint feasibility study by metals giant Alcoa and the BEDB.

If the project goes ahead, the gas-fired plant would have an initial operating capacity of 360,000 tonnes a year, which could be expanded to between 600,000 to 700,000 tonnes and, according to the BEDB, create some 700 new jobs.

The smelter is expected to be the centre piece of the Pulau Muara Besar (PMB) project, another pillar in the BEDB's industrialisation platform.

PMB is being developed on an island close to Brunei's deep water port of Muara. Covering 955ha, the site will not only have a dedicated container handling port of its own but also house medium and heavy manufacturing facilities. These include the planned smelter and an area set aside for the processing and export of halal food products, a sector identified by the government as having great potential for the country's economy.

A total of $200m has been allocated for the development of PMB as a separate line item under the latest development plan. Added to the $270m dedicated to other industrial developments, and along with supporting infrastructure projects, this makes for a solid commitment by the government to the manufacturing and production sector.

With the development of these major projects, the government hopes that a range of small and medium scale industries will be spawned, serving and supporting the main industrialisation process.

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