BRUNEI-MUARA –  Brunei and Malaysia businesses are urged to draw on each other’s strengths in order to remain competitive and boost trade revenue.

With Brunei being Malaysia’s seventh largest trading partner in ASEAN, there are several key sectors with potential for more collaboration, the Malaysian deputy premier told members of the Brunei business community on Wednesday.

“[These areas] include halal, medical consumables, renewable energy, urban farming, oil and gas, franchising, early childhood education, medical tourism and ICT,” Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said during a roundtable meeting at the Empire Hotel & Country Club.

Dr Wan Azizah was in Brunei on a two-day official visit, her first since taking office in May 2018.

Meanwhile, the minister of Energy, Manpower and Industry noted that Malaysia continues to be a key trading partner as total trade volume between the two countries reached $1 billion in 2018.

Last year, 8.5 percent of Brunei exports went to Malaysia and 11.9 percent of Brunei merchandise import originated from Malaysia. Investments from Malaysia into Brunei amounted to over $670 million in 2017.

“It is our hope to see this value increase as we support each other in this increasingly global and uncertain era,” YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mat Sunny Hj Md Hussein said.

Malaysian Deputy PM Dr Wan Azizah (centre-L) speaks to Brunei’s Minister of Energy, Manpower and Industry, Dato Dr Hj Mat Suny before a roundtable with local business leaders on February 27, 2019. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

Oil and Gas

Touching on opportunities in these different sectors, the minister said that there has been numerous links in trade and investment at both the government and business level.

Currently, majority of Malaysian investment into Brunei lie in the energy sector, accounting for US$500 million in 2017.

Dato Hj Mat Suny noted the engagement with Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas “especially in development of Brunei oil fields and purchase of liquefied natural gas (LNG)”.

In November 2017, Brunei and Malaysia inked an agreement to jointly develop four oil and gas fields along the common maritime boundary in the South China Sea: Kinabalu West NAG, Maharajalela North, Gumusut/Kakap, and Geronggong/Jagus-East. The agreement was hoped to finalise revenue sharing between the two countries by mid-2018.

In terms of downstream oil and gas opportunities, the minister highlighted the soon-to-be operational Pulau Muara Besar Industrial park.

“An emerging downstream activity is the oil refinery and petrochemical plant in the Pulau Muara Besar Industrial Park with a maximum output capacity of eight million tonnes per annum… We invite all our international partners to identify potential downstream activities that leverage on this plant in collaboration with our local businesses.”

Encouraging growth of SMEs

According to Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, aside from oil and gas, Malaysian investments into Brunei include banking and finance as well as in the construction sector. On the other hand, Brunei investments in Malaysia comprise hospitality, manufacturing of chemicals and machinery and equipment.

“Regionally, [Malaysia’s PM] Dr Mahathir Mohamad has called on ASEAN to boost intra-regional trade by up to 30 percent from the current 20 percent. This is to further provide more opportunities to small and medium enterprises to capitalise in growing investments in the area,” Dr Wan Azizah said.

On the matter, Dato Hj Mat Suny said that the Brunei government has placed emphasis to ensure growth of export-centric micro, small and medium enterprises. He also acknowledged the existing cooperation between SME bodies of both countries’, calling on both parties to continue their efforts.

“It is hoped that both Darussalam Enterprise and [Malaysia’s] SME Corp can explore opportunities to jointly nurture and develop our businesses, as well as foster more youth entrepreneurship exchange programmes.

“We look forward to opportunities for SMEs in Malaysia and Brunei to showcase their products and services in each other’s market.”