Canadian envoy lauds Brunei’s effort as ASEAN chair

James Kon

High Commissioner of Canada to Brunei Darussalam Jeanette Stovel has praised the launch of negotiations for the possible ASEAN Canada free trade agreement (FTA), as one of the 10 Priority Economic Deliverables (PEDs) at this year’s ASEAN Summit chaired by Brunei Darussalam.

“We are so delighted that Brunei has chosen the ASEAN-Canada FTA as one of its key deliverables,” she told the Bulletin in a recent interview.

“Brunei’s ASEAN chairmanship is really focussed on post COVID-19 Pandemic economic recovery for ASEAN, and the Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) can only serve to further this. Therefore, we are very pleased that negotiations will start under Brunei’s chairmanship of ASEAN.”

On when the free trade agreement should conclude, she replied, “Negotiations will take time, so I am unsure when the agreement will be completed. I was posted in Europe when Canada’s free trade agreement with European Union (EU) was negotiated, and it took a number of years.

“The most important step is the launch of negotiations and continuing to work towards it. Therefore, it is very important that Brunei has taken the step of launching negotiations for the possible ASEAN-Canada FTA.”

Regarding this year’s ASEAN Summit theme ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, Stovel said, “It signifies what Brunei’s deliverables are about this year – the resiliency of ASEAN to look after each other; and to make sure that everyone is recovering from this pandemic without leaving anyone behind.

“This shows the importance of ASEAN’s recovery as a whole region. Canada would like to commend Brunei on this and support Brunei in its chairmanship.”

High Commissioner of Canada to Brunei Darussalam Jeanette Stovel. PHOTO: JAMES KON

She also commended the government’s success in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak by saying that,” I am grateful every day that I am staying in Brunei Darussalam. The situation here is truly remarkable in that we can go out without wearing face masks, we can continue to visit our friends and families, and we can still go out hiking or carry out outdoor activities. The fact that we are living life to near normal here is a testament of how well Brunei has managed this crisis.”

With the growth of bilateral trade between Canada and Brunei Darussalam, Stovel noted the presence of several Canadian companies in the country.

“We have a number of Canadian companies in joint ventures here, such as CAE Brunei and Simpor Pharma Sdn Bhd as well as CIC Brunei. General Dynamics Mission Systems–Canada recently won a tender worth BND17 million for a two-year coastal surveillance.

“We are seeing more engagement on the commercial side. In fact, we are seeing an increase interest of doing business in Brunei from Canadian companies. We have also seen an interest on the Bruneian side to talk to Canadian universities about further studies.”

In 2020, the bilateral trade between Canada and Brunei amounted to BND11.1 million, up from BND9.167 million in 2019. Canada’s exports to Brunei in 2020 totalled BND9.24 million and imports from Brunei totalled BND1.85 million.

In 2019, Canadian direct investment in Brunei was BND5 million. Two major Canadian companies, CAE (CAE Brunei MPTC) and Viva Pharmaceuticals (Simpor Pharma), set up joint ventures in Brunei. In November 2020, GDMS Canada won a CAD16.85 million tender for a coastal surveillance system in Brunei.

Stovel said, “ASEAN and Brunei are very important to Canada. We are dialogue partners; and we hope to become strategic partners. We have been a founding member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, and hope to become an observer in the ASEAN Defence Minister’s meeting.”

As for the overall ASEAN region, as a group, ASEAN ranked as Canada’s fifth largest merchandise trading partner in 2020. Bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and ASEAN reached BND26.7 billion in 2020, down slightly from BND27.2 billion in 2019.

Canada’s merchandise exports were BND6.3 billion and merchandise imports were nearly BND20.4 billion. Services trade totalled BND6.6 billion in 2019, up from BND5.7 billion in 2018, with Canadian services exports to ASEAN totalling BND2.5 billion, and ASEAN services exports to Canada amounted to BND4.1 billion in the same year.

The stock of known Canadian direct investment in ASEAN member countries reached over BND17.5 billion at the end of 2019, up from BND12.6 billion in 2018, while foreign investment from ASEAN into Canada reached BND526 million, up from BND496 million in 2018.