Brunei gov’t seeks visitors and investors from Korea

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Brunei gov’t seeks visitors and investors from Korea

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei - Brunei, a sovereign state located on the island of Borneo, continues to see rapid development despite its official status as an advanced nation. With an estimated population of just 422,700, it offers a high standard of living propped up by its oil and gas exports. Brunei is the only Asean country that produces both fuel sources.

It recorded a surplus in external trade in 2010, with Korea, Japan and Australia among the top buyers of its crude oil and liquefied natural gas, according to the department of information at Brunei’s Prime Minister’s Office.

However, as its energy resources are expected to dwindle in the coming years or decades, the Muslim country is taking pains to diversify its economy. It has also begun inviting Korean firms to invest in the country while also moving to lure Korean tourists to go and sample its Muslim culture.

“One concern we have is that we’re very heavily reliant on oil in terms of what it contributes to GDP,” said Sheikh Rashid Salam, assistant CEO at the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB). “We’re now trying to diversify our economy.”

Over 60 percent of Brunei’s GDP derives from its oil revenues, “which is quite scary,” he said. “This is why we need to start looking at other industries to bring in foreign investment.”

However, few Korean companies are aware of what Brunei has to offer as a potential investment area.

“We have in the past spoken to people from Samsung, but nothing has materialized yet,” said Salam. “We haven’t got big Korean companies to invest in our projects as of yet.”

Alvin Thoo, manager of the foreign direct investment division of the BEDB, said Korean companies have a history of bidding for housing projects there, either independently or as part of various consortia.

“Unfortunately, they were not as competitive as the bidders from some other countries,” Thoo said, citing the language barrier as a significant hurdle.

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]
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