US Traders Seek Stronger Economic Ties With Brunei
By CT Hj Mahmod
Bandar Seri Begawan - Trade representatives from the United States on Tuesday discussed with various governmental stakeholders in Brunei under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to seek opportunities for stronger bilateral economic ties.
Intellectual property rights protection and measures to improve the investment climate, amongst others, were tabled during the two-day closed-door meeting that was chaired by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR).
A broad range of issues touching on both countries’ trade and economic investment relationship was discussed among the stakeholders that involved MIPR, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) and others.
"The United States is really interested in engaging with Brunei," David A. Katz, US Trade Representative Director for Southeast Asia and Pacific Affairs, told the Bulletin yesterday and described Tuesday’s trade meeting as "good and productive friendly exchanges".
US is one of the most open and biggest economies in the world that enjoys an enormous amount of foreign direct investment, and such an open and liberalised economic model would serve Brunei’s interest, he said.
US is seeking greater economic opportunities with Brunei Darussalam through the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) under the Enterprise of Asean Initiative (EAI).
EAI offers the prospect of bilateral FTAs between US and Asean countries that are committed to economic reforms and openness.
Bilaterally, Brunei and US have established the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), signed by Brunei’s Minister of Industry and Primary Resources.
TIFA for Asean will help boost trade and redirect investment back to Asean region with a relatively high tariff on agricultural products and tariff-rate quotas on products of interest.
The US agriculture exports to Asean countries stood at $2.6 billion in 2002. It could expand significantly.
On a more pressing issue of the ceased Multi-Fibre Agreement (MFA) that has put Brunei’s lucrative garment industry in uncertainty, he said, "Countries and firms in the textile industry should make the right adjustments that are effective and efficient, and produce right types of garments at effective prices.
"We have opened up the market entirely, and there is a huge opportunity in the market. We hope that Brunei’s garment companies are looking at ways to exploit those opportunities,” he said.
Even US textile producers are not getting special preferences and will have to meet the same challenges and opportunities in the liberalised textile regime "if, in fact, any sort of adjustments are necessary, we can consider that in the future. But right now, it is far too early to suggest that there is going to be a need," he added.
Brian Aggeler, Country Officer for Singapore and Brunei, who was also at the meeting said, "The fact there are three separate US governmental agencies represented here is certainly an indication of the wide range of interests."
On security cooperation, Jeffry J Hawkins, US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, said both countries share a strong military relationship, and added Brunei’s contribution to the tsunami victims has been recognised by Washington as well as the positive development of Brunei’s International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao, Philippines.
Meanwhile, Mr Gene B. Christy, US Ambassador to Brunei, spoke about His Majesty the Sultan’s state visit to the United States, which cemented strong bilateral ties in counter terrorism cooperation, security cooperation, economic interaction and TIFA.
More activities will be seen in the areas of education and culture between Brunei and the US, he added.
These are tangible proof that show a boost in both countries’ economic ties, said the ambassador, and added, "One of Brunei’s selling point is Darussalam - Abode of Peace - which goes to show that the Sultanate is a stable and secure environment and a good place to invest."
And according to the US Trade representatives, "having a good security is important in the long run that would actually help facilitate trade and investment".