Nik Hafimi binti Abdul Haadii,
Chair of APEC Business Advisory Council Brunei and Executive Director of LVK Group of Companies
For the first time since 2009, Brunei will welcome 150 business delegates from Asia-Pacific economies by hosting the second meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC) at the end of the month. This is one of two unique regional forums where collaborations and discussions are led by business, rather than by government officials; the other being the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC).
While many Bruneians have a strong familiarity with ASEAN, whether it’s our shared values and a love of spicy food, the sense of connection and community within APEC doesn’t exist on the same level. And while there are many reasons for this, it is because APEC, for the most part, exists as an economic forum, while ASEAN has fostered its community building in political-security and socio-cultural areas as well.
That said, the importance of APEC to the Sultanate shouldn’t be underestimated, especially to our business community, and our budding entrepreneurs, because APEC was set up to reflect their wants and needs to drive economic opportunity.
Perhaps, to understand why APEC is important, it’s best to get a refresher course on what APEC is. APEC is a forum of 21 member economies that works to promote free trade in the Asia-Pacific region. Member economies include seven of the 10 ASEAN member countries as well as East Asian, South American, North American and Pacific economies.
These regions could not be more diverse in population, language and size, but they share one thing in common: the Pacific Ocean. We’re seafaring economies, with long histories of prosperity and influence enabled by our access to the same body of water, a common thread between someone in Brunei to another person as far away as Canada. Our geography is the physical basis of what underpins APEC which is the desire and drive of wanting to trade, be it physically or digitally.
When we find ourselves sharing good things we have in common, we also have an opportunity to share our common challenges as well. This, in its essence, is what APEC is about; an opportunity to discuss our shared economic challenges in a bid for mutual growth and prosperity.
Officials from member economies meet throughout the year to discuss and develop solutions to these challenges, and the APEC leaders gather annually to endorse or provide guidance on the challenges, but at the same time, the business leaders from each economy also meet, in the form of ABAC, throughout the year to offer strategies, based on their experiences operating within the region.
These ABAC representatives include some of the leading regional and international business executives responsible for multi-billion dollar corporations, many of them Fortune 500 companies, or heads of business organisations comprising thousands of independent businesses, all of whom recognise that international trade is necessary for inclusive global economic development.
So with Brunei’s ABAC and ASEAN-BAC representatives coming together to host the second meeting of the ABAC at the end of this month, we have been offered an opportunity to also showcase some of the best, unique and impressive Bruneian businesses, not just those which are government-linked, but also local community-based businesses such as Eco Ponies Garden, or startup hubs like the Brunei Innovation Lab. This represents a chance for Bruneian businesses, especially our micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to adopt a more outward looking approach as well as gain insights towards future growth.
In conjunction with the second meeting of the ABAC, the Brunei Business Conference was also held at the Indera Samudra Grand Hall of The Empire Brunei, in Jerudong yesterday, and members of the Brunei business community were invited to attend.
The Brunei Business Conference is a collaborative event involving the Ministry of Finance and Economy, as well as leading private and public organisations from the Sultanate. The conference will see panel discussions from distinguished local and international business leaders, including from Fortune 500 companies, as well the heads of regional and international banks, and chambers of commerce. Confirmed participants include, but are not limited to, representatives from Airbus, Huawei, PT Bakrie and Brothers, and Salesforce, as business groups from the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom (UK), China, Chile, Japan and many others.
Hot button topics discussed at the panels include learning firsthand about some of the current economic initiatives being pursued by ASEAN and APEC economies, and how our local businesses can leverage upon them, discussions on digital and inclusive growth as well as achieving sustainable growth in a time of energy transition. These discussions will be led by many of the ABAC representatives, as well as many of the prominent members of our own local business community. A networking lunch is included as part of the programme.
For Bruneian businesses, these are important topics because many future policies and regulations will be built around discussions that take place in forums such as these, at the same time, there’s an opportunity for our business people and entrepreneurs to get opportunity to meet and network with representatives from major corporations and business groups, and share your thoughts as well as our warm Brunei hospitality.
At the same time, I hope that Brunei’s representatives will learn about some of the trade initiatives that the Government of Brunei Darussalam has spearheaded over the past few years, including on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) amongst ASEAN member states and its closest dialogue partners; and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CP-TPP) which is a free trade agreement comprising of some of the APEC member economies, as well as the UK, and take time to understand how agreements such as these, make it easier for Bruneian businesses to expand into global markets, as a part of the preferential treatments they provide.
The growth of our private sector means we can’t rely upon domestic spending, and Bruneian businesses need the confidence to look and grow outward. Therefore, I really hope to see the participation of our business community, especially the contributions of our younger entrepreneurs, at the Brunei Business Conference, as a step forward towards a more secure future for the Sultanate.