EU recognizes strategic importance of the Sultanate
Bandar Seri Begawan - There is potential for Brunei to act as a regional hub and platform for European businesses interested in venturing into Southeast Asia.
This was the point put forward by multiple speakers yesterday during a high tea conversation on 'the European Union (EU)'s business proposition in Brunei and Asean' at The Empire Hotel and Country Club.
Colin Crooks, the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation, Jakarta, first noted the good progress the EU is making with Brunei on the political front, but also highlighted that this is just one part of the relations.
"We also have a trading relationship with Brunei, and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) is generally accepted as our first step before we can get to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA)."
"We are not yet negotiating a FTA with Brunei," he said, however. "We have a lot on our plates and Brunei has a lot on its plate as well."
Crooks highlighted that the EU does recognise that Brunei is strategically important to them economically.
"It's a small market, no one's pretending it's as large as Indonesia or China, but we recognise that Brunei was one of the founding members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)."
"It's at the heart of the Asean Economic Community which is now being negotiated, and Brunei, of course, is the Chair of Asean.
"So we recognise that Brunei has a strategic role to play and we are keen to keep that door open over the upcoming months and years, and I think that the EU-Brunei economic relations have potential."
The British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam, Robb Fenn in his capacity as the Local Presidency of the EU' also spoke at the session, and said, "In my experience of British companies showing interest in Brunei, they very quickly ask the question, 'can Brunei be a regional platform for us?' and 'can we base ourselves in Brunei in order to sell into the wider Asean market?'
"I think that is the most important question now for you, for BEDB (Brunei Economic Development Board) and the business community here to answer. I don't have the answer myself, but I do think that Brunei could be a very interesting platform for British businesses."
He highlighted that there are many quality-of-life reasons for British and EU companies to come Brunei.
"The bottom line for these companies is can we use this as a springboard to the wider region? Is this coming Asean Economic Community a real deal? Is it going to lower barriers for us and enable us to be based in Brunei but basically sell into Asean as a whole?"
The Ambassador of Germany to Brunei Darussalam, Roland Grafe also shared his thoughts on the subject, saying, 'As a regional platform, the role that Brunei has the potential to play is very important for us."
On the current trade relationship that exists between the two countries, he said, "We see our finished products here, but aside from that, the economic exchanges between Brunei and Germany are very limited".
He highlighted that the PCA is a good step in the right direction, and said that they expect a lot from it.
"It's very difficult to advertise a small market like 0 Brunei in Germany," he added. "Once in a while there is interest, but then, I must say there is also a lot of bureaucracy and procedure here, which, to some extent, deters businesses from abroad."
Fauziah DSP Hj Talib spoke yesterday on behalf of the Asean-Business Advisory Council, which is currently under Bruneian Chairmanship.
She recounted the recent Asean-EU Business Summit in Hanoi and discussed the initiatives put forward to promote trade both within Asean itself and between Asean and the EU member states.
"The positive outlook on Asean provides an opportunity for not just existing businesses in Asean but also that of businesses form the EU intending to set up in the region," she said.
She also highlighted that businesses are well positioned to take advantage of this growth, but also underlined the importance of ensuring that these opportunities are accessible to all businesses, and that the benefits provided through the AEC can be fully realised.
"For Brunei, the efforts made toward providing a conducive business environment from start-up, operations and trading across borders will help facilitate the way for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) in Brunei to position itself on support services for larger enterprises and SMEs from the EU," she said.
"It will also promote a level playing field in a competitive business environment," she added.
Harvey Rouse, Head of the Trade Section for the EU delegation to Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Asean was another of the speakers present yesterday.
He underlined that the EU's commitment to Asean is very clear, noting the meetings they have had with their Asean counterparts in Hanoi and Indonesia as having gone very well.
"Our trade partnership is very strong with the EU being the third biggest partner of Asean, who is our fifth biggest trading partner."
Meanwhile, on the subject of Brunei, Rouse said, "On the EU side we believe very much in a deep, comprehensive FTA. The Brunei side also very much agrees this is the way to deliver the best for the two sides."
"Of course, Brunei is not the largest economy in Asean, that's clear, but nevertheless the EU is the eighth largest trading partner," Rouse continued. "Brunei in EU terms is the 124th trading partner, but it is, of course, a relatively small country.
"I'm here, also for the PCA," he said, moving on. "We want to strengthen our trade and economic partnership through the PCA, and that should lead in due course to a potential deep and comprehensive FTA."
"I think, on the Bruneian side, there is a wish, as with us, to diversify the economy here, and that will also in turn boost trade with the EU in terms of exports," he added.--Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin