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There is more to the Negara Brunei Darussalam (NBD) economy than oil. According to a report in Pelita Brunei (26.4.06:1), for example, the fishing industry has developed rapidly since the proclamation in 1983 of the 200nm Brunei Fishery Limits, also known as the EEZ (variously explained as the 'Economic Exclusion Zone' or the 'Exclusive Economic Zone'). Vessels are not allowed to lower their nets within one mile of oilrigs, which reduces the area available for making a catch. There are also intermittent reports in the press of foreign interlopers trespassing in these territorial waters. Sea fishing is complemented by aquaculture and the processing of seafood. In 2005 the entire sector was worth nearly NBD$100 million, with the possibility of further expansion in the future; a target of NBD$400 million by 2023 has been set. Although the sultanate has more than one hundred miles of coastline and eighty-five per cent of its population live on the seaboard (Krausse 1995), the country still finds it necessary to import forty per cent of its fish and allied products (PB 26.4.06:1).
National food security is a matter of constant concern to the Istana Nurul Iman (BBO 6.4.06). In mid-April it was reported that the Department of Agriculture had completed two important research projects. The first one sought to assist farmers to minimise losses caused by plant diseases and to improve the quality of crops. A database on plant viral diseases is being established and a suitable manual should be published in due course. The knowledge and skills of the Agriculture Department personnel were described as needing to be upgraded. The second project, entitled 'Reduction of Pesticide Residues on Economic Crops through the Use of Integrated Pest Management', investigated the major pest problems faced by local agriculturalists (BBO 20.4.06). Meanwhile, it was announced in April 2006 that an Australian body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, has been appointed to advise the Ministry of Agriculture on soil fertility. The government hopes (1) to boost agricultural production; (2) to increase the share of agriculture in total GDP; and (3) to achieve self-sufficiency in food supplies (BBO 13.4.06).
One possible avenue would be banana production. At present 224 banana entrepreneurs have registered with the authorities, but they are unable to meet much more than a quarter of domestic demand. The government would like to see the local harvest raised and an attempt made to enter the export market (BBO 31.3.06).
According to its booklet, Investment Opportunities in Agribusiness, the Agriculture Department would welcome local and foreign investment in this sector, irrespective of whether it involves start-up ventures or the growth of existing businesses. This is all part of the administration's diversification strategy aimed at shifting the focus away from oil and gas. The Borneo Bulletin notes that, although much has been achieved in primary production (notably poultry, eggs, fruit, and vegetables), the potential for downstream secondary industries has not yet been exploited adequately. Given a relatively cheap local fuel supply and government encouragement of investment, agribusiness could offer many openings, such as the sale of value-added products in the US$500million ASEAN market. There could also be tertiary opportunities in this line, in such areas as marketing, veterinary practice, and trade (BBO 6.4.06).
Most of the vegetation of NBD comprises tropical rain forest. As late as 1955 only four per cent of the land area was used for agricultural or residential purposes. Nearly four-fifths of NBD is still forest-clad, which is stated to be the highest proportion in Asia. The sultanate is keen to preserve its 'rich biodiversity resources'. The Ulu Temburong National Park, which attracted 270,000 visitors in 2005, has been recognised by World Wide Fund for Nature as part of the trans-national 'Heart of Borneo' area. The HOB initiative, involving NBD in partnership with neighbouring areas of Malaysia and Indonesia, was officially launched on 28 March 2006. Comprising approximately 85,000 square miles of equatorial rainforest in the three countries, the HOB accounts for some six per cent of the world's total biodiversity and is the source of fourteen of the island's twenty major rivers. It is hoped that the conservation effort might have the ancillary benefit of maintaining the cultural and traditional rights of the local people (BBO 22.3. and 29.3.06).
In late May 2006 the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (NBD) organised a two-day HOB workshop, attended by representatives of government agencies, NGOs, the private sector, and the WWF. The ministry hopes to attract foreign direct investment through the eco-tourism industry, which could in turn produce economic development in rural areas. In the ninth National Development Plan (2006-10), the local private sector is urged to become involved in the forestry and tourism sector; several long-term projects are in the pipeline (BBO 22.3.06 and 25.5.06).
Among other things, 2008 has been designated 'Visit Brunei Year' (BBO 29.4.06). A schedule of preliminary events is being drawn up, including a Halal Products Exposition (2-7 Aug. 2006), as part of the celebrations planned to mark the sixtieth anniversary (15 July 2006) of HM the Sultan's birth (BBO 29.4.06). As far as one can tell, the previous VBY (2001) was not a great success (the matter seems to hinge upon how the word 'tourist' is defined); so perhaps there will be a better outcome this time.
The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation has supplied NBD with wide-ranging assistance, notably capacity-building and institutional strengthening. National priorities are being advanced through advisory services, seminars, publications, and the provision of expertise and training (see BBO 13.3.06 for details). This aid does not come free of charge. Although funding of the CFTC is voluntary, the Malta CHOGM of November 2005 called on all member governments to increase their contributions by six per cent annually in real terms for each of the next five years. The fishery sector is one area in which NBD has received CFTC assistance, in this case for an assessment of the aquaculture industry and post-harvest operations.
There may be more to the NBD economy than hydrocarbons, but it is to be feared, not much more.
Sources: Borneo Bulletin, online (BBO); Pelita Brunei (PB); and Gerald H Krausse (in Nicholl Festschrift, 1995).
WATCHPOINT: Further developments in the 'Heart of Borneo' initiative and preparations for 'Visit Brunei Year' 2008.
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AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.
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