BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s trade volume with Malaysia reached RM$5 billion ($1.56 billion) in the first half of 2022, the Malaysian High Commissioner to Brunei said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a reception to celebrate Malaysia’s 65th Independence Day, Dato’ Raja Reza Raja Zaib Shah said, “Looking at this positive momentum, it is not impossible that the trade value of the two countries would reach RM10 billion ($3.1 billion) by the end of this year”.

“If this is the case, we will witness for the first time in history a double-digit record of bilateral trade between Malaysia and Brunei,” he said.

In 2021, Malaysia and Brunei recorded a trade volume of RM8.03 billion ($2.49 billion), an increase of 70% compared to 2020.

Malaysia was also one of the top travel destinations for Bruneians before the pandemic, with Bruneians contributing $1.16 billion in tourism receipts in 2019.

“This can not only help restore the national economy, but also stimulate social activities, because the people of both countries, especially those with families, can now visit each other and go back and forth like before,” the high commissioner said.

Malaysian expats in Brunei celebrate Malaysia’s 65th Independence day. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Resumption of cross-border travel

Brunei fully reopened its borders on August 1 after suspending non-essential travel more than two years ago due to the pandemic.

As of August 28, data from Immigration Department of Malaysia showed that 29,778 Bruneians crossed the border to enter Sarawak.

“The figure is not really staggering. It is a manageable number for the personnel at the control post to manage the operation and traffic flow,” Dato Raja Reza told The Scoop on the sidelines of the event.

“From our side, we have no problem extending the operation hours at the borders. However, we fully understand that the Brunei authority has imposed restrictions on the opening hours of the control posts from 6am to 6pm.”

In the first two weeks of the reopening, 14,000 Bruneians crossed into Malaysia, with long queues seen at the Sg Tujuh Control Post in Belait.

“Because of these exceptional circumstances, I think there is a need for the Bruneian side to study the possibility of extending the opening hours of the borders gradually,” the envoy added.

“I have yet to pursue this matter with the Bruneian side. For the first month of border reopening we would like to study the patterns [of travellers].”

Dato Raja Reza said he plans to broach the issue with the Brunei government, as well as the possibility of removing the $3 entry and exit fee imposed by Bruneian authorities last year.

The new levy means that a return trip across the border would cost each traveller $6.

“In some cases, there are [daily] commuters from Sarawak who work in Brunei and have to pay the fee twice ($12). And for them this is quite burdensome,” the high commissioner said.

“They have requested for me to appeal to the Bruneian side to waive these charges or issue some kind of discount — if not a total waiver — especially for those who finish work late.”