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Brunei, US officials study ways to expand bilateral trade

Brunei Times

Brunei, US officials study ways to expand bilateral trade

By Sobrina Rosli, Bandar Seri Begawan

8 May 2007

The United States trade representatives and Brunei government officials yesterday discussed how trade relations can be further expanded as well as what the US can do to support the sultanate’s efforts to diversify its economy.

The meeting, which was part of joint agreements made under their Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), was led by Barbara Wiesel, Assistant US Trade Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and Lim Jock Hoi, Permanent Secretary of the International Trade Section under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The meeting discussed wide-ranging and constructive ways to improve market access and facilitate trade, strengthening intellectual property rights protection and enforcement, and address regulatory issues effecting bilateral trade.

The two countries also discussed their common objectives in Apec and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as well as how cooperation can help achieve a successful conclusion of the Doha Round Talks in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

During a press conference, Wiesel said the meeting has given them an opportunity to talk about the range of issues between the two countries.

Present during the press conference was David Katz, the Director of Southeast Asia and Pacific, alongside Justin Friedman, Deputy Chief Mission of the US embassy.

Wiesel said discussions were held on the investment climate here and other issues and what the government is doing to attract investments and how the US could support these efforts.

``We also discussed Brunei’s economic diversification programme which is quite advanced. We are looking at the ways of how the US could work with the Brunei government,’’ she said.

``Intellectual property rights is an area of real interest to the US government. A priority, something that we think is important in attracting investments. We know changes have taken place here in terms of Intellectual property rights,’’ she added.

Steps to strengthen links with the US private sector also came up during the discussions as well as strengthening relations in Apec and its developments.

She also commented on Brunei’s efforts in preserving its natural environment.

``The US is quite supportive of what Brunei has done for the environment and had discussions with Indonesia and Malaysia on the issue of illegal logging here in Brunei. The efforts of the Brunei government are quite commendable. I would like to try and work together to expand some of them throughout the region and build those upon our ongoing efforts on the environment,’’ Wiesel said. Commenting on the investment climate in Brunei, Wiesel said, ``The government has developed a very clear picture of what it wants to do on the investment side. The officials here are aware of the intense competition they face in terms of investments throughout the region.

``I think they have taken a smart approach of focussing on specific areas where they want to attract specific investments rather than all over the map because they are a lot of competitors,’’ she said.

``I think that makes it easier for other countries to work with Brunei to help support development of specific sectors,’’ she added.

When asked about current trade between Brunei and the US, she said the total two-way trade was estimated at US$600 million in 2006.

``A good portion of that is from oil and gas but there is other trade also,’’ Wiesel commented. She said potential sectors in Brunei include, eco-tourism, aqua-culture, financial services, petroleum products and halal products. Commenting on Intellectual property rights the Assistant US Trade Representative of Southeast Asia and the Pacific said, ``I think, you don’t have the problem of production of optical disks like in many other countries and that’s a real advantage. You’re not trying to overcome the organised crime aspect of that issue.’’

Wiesel said there was a greater awareness here about Intellectual Property Rights.

She said Brunei, step by step, is trying to meet global standards in this aspect.

Talking of projects underway in Asean, she said there were three which were quarantine standards, harmonisation of regular medical procedures and single window efforts.

The US and Brunei TIFA was signed on December 16, 2002 during a meeting between US President George W Bush and His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in Washington to increase trade and commerce between the two countries. The US and Brunei TIFA was a product of the Enterprise for Asean Initiative (EAI), announced by President Bush in October 2002 aiming at strengthening ties between the US and the Asean countries.

The EAI offers the prospect of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) between the US and Asean member countries that are committed to economic reforms and openness with a goal of creating a network of bilateral FTAs in the region.