U.S. Statement at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Brunei Darussalam

Statement delivered by Deputy Chief of the U.S. Mission to the World Trade Organization, Chris Wilson

Geneva,
February 10, 2015

The United States welcomes the delegation of the Government of Brunei Darussalam, led by Permanent Secretary, Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We appreciate the informative report that your team prepared for this meeting, and for its statement today. As always, we are grateful to the Secretariat for its hard work in compiling this report. We also appreciate the remarks provided by our discussant, Ambassador Haluk Ilicak (Turkey). Together with the reports, this information provides a useful basis for discussing Brunei’s trade policy at today’s meeting.

It is no surprise that, during the period under review, the United States and Brunei have continued to work closely on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, thanks in large part to our efforts to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Trade between our two countries has continued to grow, and we expect to further strengthen our economic ties and enhance the competitiveness of both of our countries once TPP is concluded. Even without a TPP agreement, two-way trade totaled $576 million in 2013, up from $244 million in 2012. The stock of U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Brunei also grew to $132 million in 2013, up 14 percent from $116 million in 2012.

Brunei has been an active participant and advocate for regional trade liberalization through its work in ASEAN – including during its term as the 2013 ASEAN Chair. We look forward to continuing our work with Brunei and its ASEAN colleagues on the U.S.-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement (E3) Initiative, a new framework for economic cooperation designed to expand trade and investment ties between the United States and ASEAN.

As the Secretariat report notes, Brunei is taking measures to protect its environment and marine resources, and has included an environment strategy in the Vision 2035 to ensure the proper conservation of Brunei’s natural environment and cultural habitat. We look forward to continuing to work with Brunei through TPP to advance environmental protection and conservation in the Asia Pacific region and to help Brunei achieve the Vision 2035 and beyond.

Turning to Brunei’s economic performance during the review period, we note that while the economy grew at an average annual rate of 1.5 % during the period of 2009 to 2014, real GDP growth is expected to reach 3.0% in 2015. Meanwhile, per capita GDP has reached over $40,000, one of the highest levels in Asia.

The Secretariat report notes that Brunei remains heavily reliant on oil and gas revenue, with petroleum and natural gas representing 96.5% of total merchandise exports in 2013. We would therefore welcome any updates Brunei can provide on the progress it is making toward economic diversification, and how Brunei expects low oil prices to impact its long-term economic growth and government financing.

The United States would like to acknowledge Brunei’s efforts in the area of intellectual property, including the restructuring the administrative system, the establishment of the Brunei Intellectual Property Office, as well as the entry into force of a new patent law in 2012. During the review period, Brunei acceded to three additional WIPO treaties and is considering acceding to others. The Secretariat report notes that Brunei has taken steps to improve IPR enforcement, in particular to curb copyright piracy through improved enforcement. We would welcome an update on Brunei’s further plans to set up an independent IP office and any further judicial or enforcement steps the Government is planning. We would also appreciate an update on any potential changes to its geographical indication (GI) system.

As the Secretariat report notes, the public sector continues to exert a direct influence on Brunei’s economy, mainly through state-owned enterprises. It is our understanding that Brunei operates state-owned monopolies in key sectors of the economy such as oil and gas, telecommunications, transport and energy generation and distribution. Many of these same entities have a strong trading component to them as well. However, Brunei has not yet notified its state trading enterprises to the WTO Working Party on State Trading Enterprises. We look forward to receiving more information about these enterprises from Brunei, as well as an update when Brunei will submit its notification to the WTO.

We understand that Brunei has for some time considered exploring membership in the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement. Given the importance of government entities in Brunei’s economy, we would welcome an update the status of the consideration.

We also note that Brunei is in the final stages of revising the Telecommunications Licensing and Regulatory Framework, which will take effect in 2016. We would appreciate an update on the new framework and its impact on telecoms and broadcasting regulatory sectors.

We are pleased to see that during the review period, Brunei took steps to further facilitate trade, and we note that Brunei has no customs fees for import or export procedures or registration. We are pleased to see that Brunei submitted its category A notification for the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement last year, and look forward to hearing more regarding Brunei’s plans and timeline for its acceptance of the TFA.

We look forward to continuing our work with the Government of Brunei Darussalam to enhance the U.S.-Brunei trade and investment relationship, and we appreciate the opportunity to participate in this review. As an original Member of the WTO, Brunei has maintained steady support for the multilateral trading system. We remain committed to close cooperation with Brunei with the goal of expanding our trade relationship here at the WTO, as well as bilaterally and regionally through Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). We wish Brunei a successful trade policy review.