Call for Singapore, Brunei firms to join hands

They can harness wider market together in areas like ecotourism and fintech: Halimah

As Brunei diversifies its economy, it would be timely for Singapore businesses to look at ways to team up with the kingdom's private sector, said President Halimah Yacob yesterday.

"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 four-day state visit to the kingdom, her first such overseas trip.

The potential sectors she cited include ecotourism, aquaculture and financial technology.

In particular, she noted Singapore company Barramundi Asia's move to develop a 6,600ha fish farm in Brunei, and export an estimated 40,000 tonnes of fish to Singapore. It recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Brunei's Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism.

Another Singapore company, Apollo Aquaculture, is investing in infrastructure in Brunei to set up a fish hatchery, she added.

Singapore ranks third among Brunei's top trade partners in 2016, after Japan and Malaysia. Total annual trade between the two rose 25 per cent to $1.5 billion last year.

The President said she gleaned two key lessons from her visit to the country, with which Singapore has longstanding ties.

At the University of Brunei Darussalam Botanical Research Centre, she was struck by how developing sustainable forms of energy was a key focus of its research efforts despite the country being rich in oil.

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

The other lesson is how Brunei has preserved its culture and traditions even as it modernises its infrastructure and exploits technology.

She cited its new Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas riverfront park, an urban redevelopment project to revitalise the capital. She saw how the area continues to be a space for the community to gather, and for entrepreneurs to showcase and sell local products, including those from rural areas.

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

She also witnessed the signing of two pacts to strengthen financial cooperation.

Bilateral ties date back to the 1960s and, as Madam Halimah and Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah reaffirmed the strong relations and mutual trust between their countries, they also learnt more about each other's families during the visit.

Madam Halimah, who will be a grandmother for the first time next month, chatted with Sultan Bolkiah about his experience as a grandfather of 16. She told the reporters: "You can see he is very family-focused... It was also really lovely to see he's very well-loved by his people."