Focus on maintaining trade opportunities

Azlan Othman

The need to maintain trade opportunities and establishing new trading partners even during the COVID-19 pandemic was Brunei Darussalam’s focus as the country continues to strengthen economic growth and open up export opportunities for local businesses.

In Brunei Darussalam, the economy expanded 2.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 based on the gross domestic product (GDP) report for first quarter of this year by the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics of the Ministry of Finance and Economy. This growth is largely attributed to the downstream sector where there is a 29.1 per cent rise in the export of goods and services.

This was highlighted by ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) President Haji Abdul Halim bin Saim in a speech at a virtual meeting at the ASEAN Investment Conference & Fair 2020 organised by the China–ASEAN Business Council yesterday.

Haji Abdul Halim said agricultural and food products remain key categories in the region.
Over the past two decades, Asia’s food supply chain has become increasingly integrated.

Successive trade agreements within ASEAN, between Asian economies and globally have halved the average tariff rate on food imports into Asia. Lower tariffs have unleashed a surge in food trade with data from Oxford Economics showing an increase in intra-Asian food trade from USD22 billion in 2000 to over USD70 billion by 2018. Food trade liberalisation and integration has brought powerful benefits to living standards in emerging economies, including Asia.

ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance President Haji Abdul Halim bin Saim. PHOTO: AFBA

China has been an important trading partner for ASEAN. In the first two months of 2020, ASEAN surpassed the European Union (EU) and became China’s largest trading partner, according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs.

However, like any other economic sector though, Asia’s food industry had to contend with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on supply chains within – and across – economies.

Economies across the region have been placed under lockdown, with major constraints to movement of workers and households.

Abdul Halim said realising the importance of food security, most governments in the region have exempted workers in related sectors from restrictions on travelling for work purposes.

Additionally, firms in the sector can tap into government-led measures such as direct loans to firms, or measures to extraordinary guarantee commercial loans, or employment subsidies to lower the cost of employment during a time of lower demand.

“The strong trading relationship that ASEAN has enjoyed with China will be important as we enter into the post-COVID-19 phase. As countries begin to re-open their economies under the ‘new normal’ no sector of life and economy will be same,” he said.

“This calls for business communities to rise to the challenge and seize the opportunity to maximise the potential of the food sector in Asia. With the current climate of uncertainty, the economic recovery process will be crucial. It has never been more important for businesses to unite for a better integrated regional economy in ASEAN and China.”