COVID-19 accelerates nation’s digital agenda

James Kon

The Brunei Government, prior to COVID-19, at various occasions acknowledged the importance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the economic opportunities it creates. This led to the establishment of the Digital Economy Council last year to guide the policy towards Brunei Darussalam’s drive to become a Smart Nation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s digitalisation agenda has been further accelerated with greater focus on supporting the survival of local micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy (Economy) Dato Seri Paduka Dr Haji Abdul Manaf bin Haji Metussin said.

The deputy minister also shared that the impact of COVID-19 accelerated the country’s digital agenda.

Dato Seri Paduka Dr Haji Abdul Manaf made these comments at the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting (SMEMM) convened virtually yesterday.

He highlighted the importance of close collaboration at all levels and among member economies in maintaining trade connectivity to ensure the regional and global supply chains remain resilient against future shocks.

According to the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MoFE), under this year’s meeting theme ‘Navigating the New Normal: Restarting and Reviving MSMEs through Digitalisation, Innovation and Technology’, member economies recognised the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses, calling for APEC economies to strengthen policies and enable measures that will help MSMEs recover and build resiliency.

The member economies shared their best practices and presented views on two sub-themes – ‘COVID-19 and MSMEs – Best practices to mitigating the impact of the pandemic’ and ‘Digitalising MSMEs for an inclusive and sustainable New Normal’.

Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy (Economy) Dato Seri Paduka Dr Haji Abdul Manaf bin Haji Metussin and Legislative Council member Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi binti Abdul Haadii attend the virtual meeting. PHOTO: MOFE

Through the 2020 APEC SME Ministerial Statement, member economies committed to help MSMEs navigate the new normal under the overarching APEC 2020 theme ‘Optimising Human Potential Towards a Resilient Future of Shared Prosperity’ emphasising the importance of promoting MSMEs access to international markets in the region, maintaining stable regional and global supply chain, and advancing socio-economic recovery and development.

The statement also endorsed the new Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group (SMEWG) Strategic Plan 2021-2024, which sets objectives in five priority areas – Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Start-ups; SME Access to International Markets and Global Value Chains; Inclusive Capability Development Towards Digitalisation; Access to Finance and Alternative Financial Solutions; and Government to Business Interaction.

The meeting attended by ministers and representatives from APEC economies was held under the chairmanship of Malaysia’s Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Dato Sri Dr Haji Wan Junaidi bin Tuanku Jaafar.

Legislative Council member Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi binti Abdul Haadii as Chair of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Entrepreneurship Working Group (MSMEE WG) under the APEC-Business Advisory Council (ABAC) also participated.

Permanent Secretary (Industry) at the MoFE Pengiran Hajah Zety Sufina binti Pengiran Dato Paduka Haji Sani, officers from the Industry and Business Ecosystem Division of MoFE and Darussalam Enterprise (DARe) officers were also present.

Prior to the ministerial meeting, the 50th SMEWG Meeting was held virtually from October 21 to 22. The Working Group meeting saw the handover of SMEWG Chairmanship from Australia to Brunei Darussalam for two consecutive years, 2021-22. Noting on Brunei Darussalam’s takeover of APEC SMEWG Chairmanship for 2021-2022, Dato Seri Paduka Dr Haji Abdul Manaf assured that Brunei Darussalam will continue to work hand-in-hand with member economies and provide leadership and support to the continuity of the Working Group’s priorities and work plan.

The SMEMM convenes annually and sets out the direction for the SMEWG. The SMEWG is the champion within APEC for the inclusive development of sustainable, resilient and innovative SMEs and serves as the main fora where APEC economies exchange information, views, best practices and analysis concerning SMEs in the APEC region.