Business opportunities aplenty in Timor-Leste

|     Achong Tanjong     |

TIMOR-LESTE, Asia’s youngest nation, offers Brunei Darussalam vast opportunities in various fields, particularly the Halal food industry and human capacity building.

This was stated by Ambassador of Brunei Darussalam to Timor-Leste Norazlianah binti Haji Ibrahim at an interview in Timor-Leste’s capital city Dili, during a recent media familiarisation trip.

Asked on the areas of cooperation that the two countries can work together on to further boost bilateral ties, she said, “We established diplomatic relations in 2002 but only set up our embassy here in 2015. Concrete cooperation is yet to be established but the embassy is currently working on this in the wake of several visits by several Timorese ministers to Brunei.

“The embassy has also taken the initiative to approach several ministers in charge of education, tourism as well as oil and gas to discuss possible areas of cooperation. We had received positive response and currently we are working on the follow-up to our discussion.

“We have yet to see something concrete as 2017 is an election year in Timor-Leste and everybody is preoccupied with this. The presidential election was just held in March and the new government will only be established after the parliamentary election this coming July.

“We hope, once the new government is in place, we will be able to see progress in our efforts. We are trying our best to be the catalyst for the establishment of cooperation in a number of areas between Brunei and Timor-Leste,” the ambassador added.

In response to the numbers of Bruneians venturing into businesses in Timor-Leste, she said, “currently there are no Bruneians.”

“There is, however, only one Brunei permanent resident who established a business in Timor-Leste in 2000. He started with a bakery and after several years he branched out to other areas. He is now one of the main oxygen suppliers for the government hospital and several private clinics. He also supplies industrial oxygen to workshops and big infrastructure projects.

Ambassador of Brunei Darussalam to Timor-Leste Norazlianah binti Haji Ibrahim with Second Secretary Hilmy Zainal during the interview in Dili. - ACHONG TANJONG
Ambassador of Brunei Darussalam to Timor-Leste Norazlianah binti Haji Ibrahim with Second Secretary Hilmy Zainal during the interview in Dili. – ACHONG TANJONG

“Recently he set up a recycling plant for aluminium tin scrap materials, and now he is working on establishing another company supplying fire extinguishers,” she explained.

With regard to the areas of business Bruneians can tap into, she said, “Actually there is a lot of business potential here, especially in tourism and the food industry, but the thing is they would have to build up the capacity of the people. Timor-Leste is a new nation and they don’t have enough people with the right skills for specific industries.

“That is the challenge for the business people back home. Timor-Leste is still working on the proper legal framework and commercial law as well as improving the infrastructure in the country. The country doesn’t have its own currency yet. The US currency is used here and most things are imported. Despite these challenges, interested Brunei entrepreneurs can start small – like what the permanent resident did when he opened up the bakery.”

“The food industry and restaurant businesses are doing well in Dili. For Muslims, they are constantly in search of restaurants serving Halal food, so there is potential in this.

What is also needed are training centres because being a young nation there are some skills that the people lack. These training centres would really help the unemployed, most of whom are young. Almost half the population in Timor-Leste is young.

With regard to receiving Timorese visitors, she said she knew of a Timorese travel agency that arranges three- to four-day travel package to Brunei Darussalam. But at this stage, the number of Timorese travelling to Brunei for tourism is still low.

Bruneians keen on visiting Timor-Leste can travel either through Bali, Indonesia, or Singapore.

“Timor-Leste is for those who love adventure, nature, beaches and scuba diving. It is really beautiful here,” she added.