ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
MSMEs, youth entrepreneurs need more support to compete under AEC
REGIONAL integration is one of the main objectives of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and this was reiterated in the AEC blueprint 2025.
The Brunei Times Journalist Zafirah Zaili recently interviewed ASEAN Business Advisory Council member (ASEAN BAC) for Brunei Lisa DP Hj Ibrahim (pic) to discuss Brunei’s progress in economic integration.
What can Brunei do to benefit from the AEC?
It’s more about what ASEAN is doing and how we can get advantages from being part of that.
Brunei is quite a small country and obviously being part of ASEAN gives us more power collectively, especially for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
For ASEAN BAC our focus is MSMEs, youth, women and e-commerce and I think that those are four areas that Brunei can also benefit from. We just need to figure out how our private sector can benefit.
So I think it’s a matter of identifying certain companies in the private sector that we think can actually contribute to these areas and go regional.
Part of that is about government policies to support an enabling environment for young entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, MSMEs in general.
This includes access to financing, rules of law, regulations and making sure that we as a country are on the same level as the other ASEAN (countries) to give a level playing field for our MSMEs and internally to build them up and strengthen them so that we can compete regionally. That’s what we really need to focus on in Brunei.
In what areas can Brunei businesses potentially excel in and what needs to be done to build on this potential?
There are companies that might just need a little bit of support and that might be where the government can provide some type of environment where they can provide support in terms of capacity building (and) financing to companies that seem to have the potential to be able to go regional.
In Brunei, we have a lot of micro businesses and social media businesses. What ASEAN BAC is doing in e-commerce is quite important to Brunei (because) that doesn’t constrict our market to just within Brunei.
We might be able to compete in terms of social media and e-commerce but then our issue is cost of logistics. We might have the products but we can’t compete regionally because the logistics to get to and fro is just too expensive. That’s where the government can help by providing linkages — the infrastructure to reduce the cost of logistics — to allow us to be more competitive.
Apart from what the government can do to create a conducive business environment, what can ASEAN BAC do to help businesses?
On the top level, we need the government to be on the same page and also on the same level across ASEAN so we can take advantage collectively because there are a lot of overseas players like the EU, America.
In ASEAN BAC, we have the other joint councils where we actually have dialogues with the ASEAN-US business council and ASEAN-Korea business council so we’ve created a platform where we can collaborate with them.
We started this in Brunei in 2013 as a way of getting the business councils interested in ASEAN because there was so much interest to come into ASEAN. That has allowed us to reach out to more than just ASEAN so we’re focused not just on strengthening businesses in ASEAN but also strengthening linkages with external parties (and) other business councils that want to come into ASEAN and work with us.
We identify certain champions. For example, New Zealand is very interested in NTMs (non-tariff measures) (and) NTBs (non-tariff barriers). So we’re doing a joint thing where they are leading with ASEAN BAC in that area.
I feel that our embassies also play a role in helping our companies go out. We have things like Austrade (Australian Trade Commision) so if every one of our embassies has an officer in charge of helping Brunei business go into that country, that will help a lot.
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