Brunei provides opportunities for Singapore businesses: President Halimah

It is timely for businesses to venture abroad and collaborate with Brunei given how the country is diversifying its economy, said President Halimah Yacob.
It is timely for businesses to venture abroad and collaborate with Brunei given how the country is diversifying its economy, said President Halimah Yacob.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - Besides government-to-government partnerships, the private sector in Singapore can also look at how they can venture abroad and collaborate with Brunei, said President Halimah Yacob on Monday (May 14).

It is timely for businesses to do so given how Brunei is diversifying its economy, said Madam Halimah.

"We both have small markets, but we can always look at how we can harness the wider market together with the right branding and marketing," Madam Halimah told Singapore reporters at the end of her Brunei trip, her first overseas state visit.

Sectors that can see such collaborations include eco-tourism, aquaculture and financial technology, she said.

Madam Halimah noted that for instance, a Singaporean company, Barramundi Asia, recently signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Brunei's Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism to develop a 6,600ha fish farm in Brunei, and export an estimated 40,000 tonnes of fish to Singapore.

Another Singaporean firm, Apollo Aquaculture, is also investing in infrastructure in Brunei to set up a fish hatchery, added Madam Halimah.

Singapore was Brunei's third largest trading partner in 2016, after Japan and Malaysia. Its total trade with Brunei increased by 24.9 per cent from 2016 to $1.5 billion last year.

Madam Halimah said she has gleaned two key lessons from her four-day visit to Brunei, which Singapore enjoys longstanding ties with.

When she visited the University of Brunei Darussalam Botanical Research Centre on Sunday, she was struck by how developing sustainable forms of energy was a key focus of its research efforts despite it being an oil-rich country.

"That gives us a stronger impetus to say, 'Look, we don't have oil, we import, but we also need to make sure that we continue to look at sources of sustainable energy'," said Madam Halimah.

Another takeaway is how Brunei manages to preserve its culture and traditions even as it modernises its infrastructure and leverages technology.

She cited the example of Brunei's new Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas riverfront park, an urban redevelopment project aimed at revitalising the capital.

During her visit there on Sunday, Madam Halimah saw how the area continues to remain a space for the community to come together, and for entrepreneurs to showcase and sell local products, including those from rural areas.

"Modernity does not mean that you have to lose your cultural bearings... In Singapore, we also have such nodes (where we can connect), but we can still continue to look at how to make it even better," said Madam Halimah, who is the first foreign head of state to plant a tree at the park since its completion in November last year.

Madam Halimah, who witnessed the signing of two pacts to strengthen financial co-operation on her trip, said she was thankful to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah for his generosity and time.

Besides reaffirming the strong ties and mutual trust between the nations going back to the 1960s, the two leaders also learnt more about each other's families during the visit.

For instance, Madam Halimah, who will become a grandmother for the first time next month, chatted with Sultan Bolkiah about his experience as a grandfather to 16 grandchildren.

"You can see that he is a very family-focused, and there are a lot of things to talk about on this... It was also really lovely to see that he was very well-loved by his people," she said.