Early last week the ministry announced plans to focus on new industries to produce a total output of about $3m by 2023. The targeted sectors are value-added, export-oriented and high-tech industries in the fields of agriculture, fisheries, forestry, manufacturing and tourism. It is hoped that growth in these sectors will lessen the sultanate's dependency on oil and gas revenues.
The government is aiming for a gross output of $1.8bn in agricultural industries, $267m in fisheries, $668m in manufacturing, $238m in tourism and $27m in the forestry sector.
According to the ministry's permanent secretary, Hj Mohd Hamid, the agricultural opportunities lie in fruit and vegetable businesses, the sale of flower and ornamental plants, livestock and agricultural-based food processing.
As for the fisheries, the permanent secretary said fish product processing as well as fish, prawn and crab breeding are all areas of opportunity.
In the forestry sector, the areas that could be tapped into are jungle development, eco-tourism and the biotechnology industry.
Ahmad bin Hj Jumaat, minister of industry and primary resources, told OBG, "One way we do this is with a niche strategy in our industrial development plan. When we say niche approach, we focus on sectors that capitalise on our various strengths and the ability of those sectors to provide quality job opportunities."
He went on to say, "To develop any industry here, we have to accept the fact that Brunei is small with a small population so comparatively, doing business here is more expensive. But Brunei does well in niche industries such as farming and exporting prawn and grouper. I could see fisheries becoming the niche market for Brunei."
The government said the country's strategic location within the region makes it well positioned to manage the distribution of fisheries exports to the international market. It is marketing the logistical access for the industry by focussing on the coastal highways, modern seaport and airport facilities.
Beyond these potential export products and advantages, the ministry is working with companies in Australia to combine the sultanate's halal credentials with Australia's food production reputation and capabilities. Buyers from Japan and China, with their sizeable Muslim populations, have expressed interest importing food products from the sultanate's Brunei Premium Halal Brand. Still, industry insiders said they believe it will take some time before there are positive results but the ministry is confident that all the ingredients are in place.
Because small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are responsible for 98% of the business generated in Brunei, they are of particular importance to the government. As such, the ministry is working hard to encourage food-manufacturing companies to consider venturing into exporting to the international market. The government is taking steps to help SMEs in their overseas enterprises as it sees these businesses as a huge opportunity for growth.
The ministry provides assistance to SMEs through the Entrepreneurial Development Centre in Sinaut and Business Incubator Centre in Kg Anggerek Desa. In terms of business capital, the ministry said it would soon introduce a financial aid facility for local entrepreneurs through an export credit financial scheme.
The ministry is also tasked with ensuring that all local products are guaranteed safe for consumers in line with international market standards.
Six local companies have already received an internationally recognised certificate, which will allow them to venture into the overseas market with their food products. They include DS Meat Industries Brunei, PDS Abattoir, Semaun Seafood and Golden Chick Abattoir.
Ahmad bin Hj Jumaat said, "We must achieve the standards that have been set out by the World Trade Organisation, such as import permits, health and safety certification or mandatory requirements in the European Union, United States, Japan and Australia."