| James Kon |
WITH the recovery in global oil prices, Brunei has seen an encouraging increase in its gross domestic product (GDP), and is hoping to maintain this positive momentum by stepping up its various economic diversification initiatives.
Notable efforts include implementing FDI projects focussed on sectors that hold huge potential for growth, such as the technology and creative industries, tourism, downstream oil and gas, business services, and Halal manufacturing.
This national diversification drive was highlighted by Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah in his keynote address as guest of honour at the 48th ASEAN Banking Council Meeting held at the Empire Hotel & Country Club yesterday.
“Brunei Darussalam,” the minister pointed out, “is blessed to be part of an emerging and vibrant economy bloc that practises cohesion and solidarity for the purpose of prosperity.”
He added however that this well-reflected spirit of cooperation between the member states “must trickle down, bridge multiple borders and grow industries so that it benefits not only governments or businesses, but also bridge borders to reach consumers and start-ups so those on the ground share the benefit of being people of ASEAN”.
The minister highlighted that to ensure sustainable growth for one united ASEAN, each member country must continue working hard to deliver on their individual and collective commitments.
“We must progress together as individual nations within one economic bloc. This will allow us to contribute to the competitive growth of a dynamic and resilient ASEAN,” he said. “We will need the cooperation of everyone at all levels – including the ASEAN Banking Association (ABA) – to build and strengthen relationships and to ultimately achieve true best practices and governance, to champion the original ideals of the 1967 Bangkok Declaration of peace, freedom, social justice and economic wellbeing.”
Earlier in his keynote, Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew pointed out that ASEAN’s vast young population gives the bloc a powerful foundation to realise its economic and social aspirations.
“Our region is home to more than 600 million people, a population larger than that of the European Union or North America, which holds the third-largest labour force in the world, trailing only China and India. More importantly, almost half the population is aged below 30,” he said.
“Put this all together and we have the right ingredients – the economic capabilities and this big melting pot of diversity – to materialise our enormous potential and opportunity to grow and for ASEAN to continue succeeding as an economic bloc.
“But our potential will only be met if we channel our investments in the right places, be they investments of capital into the right infrastructure, the right economic projects or into our efforts to work cohesively together. This is where the banking industry plays the pivotal role to offer opportunities for us all to invest in our future.”
Speaking on infrastructure spending, the minister explained, “ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi pointed out recently that the prevailing global political, economic and social shifts confront us with non-traditional challenges and opportunities. One of these challenges was highlighted at the recent Asian Banking Association General Meeting, where the required infrastructure investment in Asia is estimated at USD1.7 trillion annually for the period from 2016 to 2030, to prop up current infrastructure to support rapid urbanisation and regional connectivity to stimulate further economic activity and trade between nations.”
The minister also highlighted the importance of supporting micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). “Investing in our future also means investing in our MSMEs, which make up almost 90 per cent of business activity in the region. Southeast Asian-listed companies with annual sales of USD100 million or less have a total combined earnings of almost USD10 billion, an increase of more than 20 per cent compared to 2012,” he said.
“With the right support from the banking industry, we can nurture these MSMEs so that one day they can grow into the multinational conglomerates of our region. This is the sort of ASEAN dynamism and diversity that we want to project onto the world.”
Elaborating on the steps Brunei is taking in embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the minister said, “In his titah at the recent Universiti Brunei Darussalam convocation, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam stated that in order for Brunei to develop technologically to change the lives of its citizens, there must be an honest effort from all stakeholders to shift the nation towards a knowledge-based economy and place greater emphasis on life-long learning.
“We want to embrace the changes brought about by this digital revolution. With Internet penetration already at 58 per cent, Southeast Asia is home to the world’s fastest growing population of Internet users, with over 125,000 new users forecasted to come online daily by 2020. The bulk of this growth will come via mobile use. In Brunei, we anticipate significant growth in mobile data usage and aim to provide better coverage in the coming years.”
ASEAN’s digital economy, Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew said, has the potential to add an incremental USD1 trillion in GDP by 2025. Because of this, ASEAN needs to jump fully onto the digital bandwagon, the minister added.
“There needs to be financial mechanisms and solutions in place for cross-border trade for ASEAN goods and services offered. And we need to ensure we are investing in our people to give them the skills to be flexible and adaptable in the ever-changing business environment,” he said.
“This is where our leading financial institutions can play their part in supporting the growth of our industries, our countries and our people.”