| Aziz Idris |
A BUDGET totalling $116,558,840 million has been allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MoFAT) for the new fiscal year 2018/2019 during the sixth day of the 14th Legislative Council (LegCo) Session yesterday afternoon.
The budget was presented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II, YB Dato Seri Paduka Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof which saw an increase from previous year (2017/2018) of $107,692,930 million.
Central to the budget is focus on pursuing efforts to promote international trade, in particular “trade facilitation” and “trade promotions” as well as to “reduce barriers to trade” noted the minister, before adding that the steps is MoFAT’s strategy to enhance growth and further diversify the economy of Brunei Darussalam as stipulated in nation’s Vision 2035.
MoFAT will continue to collaborate with other ministries to benefit from the participation in free, bilateral or regional trade agreements and the minister believes that such agreements can provide citizens and traders in Brunei Darussalam access to larger markets and increase the attractiveness of the country as an investment destination.
“Brunei Darussalam should not be seen as a market of merely 420,000 people only,” said the minister before pointing out that Borneo Island alone has good and extensive road connections, as well as extensive air links which provide (Brunei) “immediate access to the market of 18 million people”.
In view of this, YB Dato Seri Paduka Awang Haji Erywan was pleased to note that Brunei Darussalam has also involved in regional free trade agreements under Asean, as well as Asean free trade agreements with dialogue partners, which provided an even wider market access.
One of the recent agreements signed was the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on March 8, in Santiago, Chile with 10 other countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
“The agreement will not only open the export route for local products to a market of 500 million people, but will also attract investment opportunities by taking advantage of this positive and attractive investment climate,” he chimed.
In line with the wider drive to support efforts in diversifying the economy, Brunei foreign offices will continue to play their role in promoting Brunei Darussalam as a safe and stable nation, as well as an attractive investment destination for international companies.
Such approaches could “provide opportunities for local companies to set up joint ventures with outside companies to enable them to penetrate the international market and develop their products”, explained the minister and assured that the foreign offices are willing and ready to assist in promoting local products that can be featured in the respective countries.
The minister also outlined the budget allocation for MoFAT which includes $42.83 million provided for staff salaries; $69.45 million is provided for recurring expenses which takes into account provisions such as operating costs, trade promotion expenses, and maintenance costs, construction and renovation of buildings under the ministry; and $4.28 million for the National Development Plan (RKN) to finance the construction of an official residence in Canberra, Australia as well as the restoration of the heritage building, the Bubungan Dua Belas.
MoFAT’s several buildings within and outside the country, such as the Ministry’s headquarters, the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Berakas and Bubungan Dua Belas, as well as 80 overseas buildings including diplomatic offices and official residences.
Reiterating the proclamation of independence in 1984, YB Dato Seri Paduka Awang Haji Erywan explained that among the important tasks assigned to the ministry was to support Brunei’s foreign policy and its foreign relations.
In this regard, the ministry has offered scholarships to students from several countries to study at local higher education institutions which the minister believes not only builds good relationship with those countries, but also increases the prestige of those institutions in the eyes of the world.
To date, the Sultanate has established bilateral ties with more than 170 countries.