A TIME TO SHARE

Oman 2015 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Brunei Darussalam, on the close ties his nation has with the Sultanate of Oman, and the potential for joint investments.

His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah
BIOGRAPHY
HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah is a member of the Royal Family of Brunei Darussalam, and is the brother of His Majesty the Sultan. Following the independence of Brunei Darussalam in 1984, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam. In August 2005, the Trade Department joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, forming the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As a result, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah became the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and he has held this office since that time.

According to Brunei's foreign policy, can you elaborate on the importance of the Sultanate of Oman?

We enjoy very friendly relations at the government level through our embassies in Bandar Seri Begawan and Muscat. We also meet regularly at the UN and the Non-Aligned Movement meetings, and also as members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and ASEAN-GCC. The most important are our Bilateral Consultative Meetings, which are held in alternate years. Cooperation between us covers defense, education, health, and cultural affairs. We continue to explore opportunities to strengthen relations.

How would you assess the current and future relationship between Brunei and Oman?

It is increasing in scope. We have had regular high level and senior officials' exchanges. These have given us the chance to meet and create opportunities for cooperation. Ideas are discussed at meetings and many of them have been implemented, especially in education, where we have both offered scholarships to students. A group of secondary students made an initial study to visit Oman a few years ago, and now we are hoping to have more Omani students in University Brunei Darussalam (UBD). So, all in all, I believe we have a very positive future with Oman, especially as our trade relations are steadily growing.

What makes Brunei an appealing destination for Omani Investment?

Brunei and Oman have maintained a strong cooperation in investment over the past several years; the Oman-Brunei Investment Company LLC, Renna Mobile, and Kempinski Hotel. Meanwhile, an Omani IT Company, Bahwan Cybertek, invested in a joint venture with TelBru, a local telecommunication company, in 2012 providing domestic and regional call center services. With the recent visit of a delegation from Oman focusing on seeking investment opportunities with Brunei, a number of new investment opportunities were identified in various industries including the upstream and downstream oil and gas sectors, halal food and beverage, banking and finance. These investments need not to be limited to either in Oman or Brunei, but could also be extended to joint investment in third countries. Total trade between Brunei and Oman in 2013 amounted to just under BND2 million (approximately $1.6 million). Brunei exports to Oman fall under the category of “works of art, collector's pieces, and antiques," while Oman exports goods under the category of “miscellaneous manufactured articles." From an economic perspective, both countries can be characterized as being very dependent on oil and gas exports, which consequently leads to a strong drive toward economic diversification.

An Omani trade delegation has recently visited Brunei: what is the importance of this event, and how did it strengthen the relation between the two countries?

It was important. It confirmed our confidence in the potential for trade cooperation and encourages more business communities in both countries to consider new areas in which we can work together. During the visit, Oman encouraged Brunei to invest in its free economic zone, such as in Duqm. Likewise, Brunei took the opportunity to attract Omani investment. Apart from two-way investment, both sides were also looking at possibilities for a joint investment in Brunei, Oman, or in other countries. The willingness of both sides to work together, share experiences, and offer expertise, will strengthen existing relations.

What areas of bilateral trade have the most potential for growth?

Brunei and Oman share many political and economic aims. We are both oil and gas producing countries, and have the ultimate aim to diversify our economies. I think we can work very well together in sectors such as “downstream" industries, agribusiness, Islamic finance, tourism, and halal branding. One way of doing this is by expanding the investment opportunities through the Oman Brunei Investment Company (OBIC), which was set up five years ago.