Business and Market Overview on Brunei
ECONOMY. Brunei’s economy is dependent on oil and gas and is the third largest producer of crude oil in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia. Brunei is also the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas. Brunei’s current oil and gas reserves are sufficient at least until 2015. Thus, Brunei’s government has used its oil wealth for investments outside the country for future generations. Furthermore, the government seeks to develop the country’s economy beyond on oil and gas but with little success.
Brunei’s GDP was US$5.2 billion with a GDP per capita of US$13,879 in 2004. The economy grew at an average GDP growth of 3.0% annually from 2000 to 2004 driven mainly by Brunei’s export of oil and gas and therefore dependent by world oil and gas prices. Inflation was less than 1.5% in 2000-2001, experience deflation in 2002-2003 but inflation eventually crept at 0.9% in 2004. The government is Brunei’s largest employer and many of its citizens prefer to work with the government. The country experienced increasing unemployment from 2002 to 2004 but remained below 5.0%.
The industrial sector (mainly oil and gas related activities) contributed towards 56.1% of Brunei’s GDP in 2004. The service sector contributed towards 40.3% while the agriculture sector contributed only 3.6% during the period. Main industries are petroleum, petroleum refining, liquefied natural gas and construction. Major agriculture products include rice, vegetables, fruits, chicken and eggs.
DEMOGRAPHY. Brunei has a small population of slightly more than 370 thousand. Brunei Malays are the largest ethnic group and account for nearly 70% of population followed by Chinese accounting for 15%. Others include indigenous people and immigrants who have settled in the country. Islam is the official religion of the country and 70% of the population practice the Muslim faith. Other religions include Buddhism, Christianity and indigenous practices. The official language is Malay while Brunei’s Chinese community often used the Chinese language within the community. The population is generally proficient in English since schools teach the language and used in higher education, business and the sciences.
Three quarters or 75% of the population live in the urban areas and mostly work in government services, oil and gas industry, wholesale and retail trade and construction. Major urban areas include the nation’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan, Muara, Tutong, Seria and Kuala Belait.
Poverty is practically non-existent in the oil rich nation of Brunei. Brunei’s GDP per capita is half of Singapore but based on purchasing power parity (PPP) it is slightly less than Singapore. Nearly 70% of the households belong to the middle or high-income categories while the remaining 30% in the lower-income category.
INFRASTRUCTURE. Telecommunication services within the country well developed while reliability of services outside from Brunei is good. Internet access is available throughout many parts of the country but broadband services are limited. Towns well connected by roads and crosses the border into East Malaysia. Country served by single international airport at Bandar Seri Begawan.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE. Major trading partners include Japan, South Korea, Australia, US, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Singapore and Malaysia. Much of the imports from Singapore are Singapore’s re-exports from other countries. Major exports include crude oil, natural gas, refined petroleum products. Major imports include machineries and equipments, vehicles and vehicle parts, consumer goods, foods, construction materials and chemicals.
CONSUMER USAGE OF TECHNOLOGY. Nearly all homes in Brunei have fixed-line telephones and the penetration of mobile phones by population was 40% in 2004. Brunei’s general population have the financial means to install computers in their homes but the penetration in homes is low at 20%. Penetration of internet users is also low at 9% of the population or 34,000 users. Nevertheless, nearly all homes in Brunei have televisions and refrigerators.
RETAIL MARKET. Marketers into Southeast Asia often neglect Brunei as a potential market because of its small consumer population. However, the country has the second highest GDP per capita in the region after Singapore and depends on imports for nearly all of its consumer goods and foods. The estimated value of Brunei’s retail market in 2004 was US$390 million in 2004 of which foods accounted for nearly US$280 million. The “mom and pop” stores and mini markets dominate the retail industry alongside a few department stores and supermarkets. Consumers in Brunei often shop cross the border into Malaysia for wider choices of consumer goods.
FOOD CULTURE. Foods eaten by the Malays tend to be rice with spicy meat and vegetable dishes. However, the people of Brunei are accustomed to Indian foods due to the numerous small Indian eateries across the country. Thus, homes often serve fish, chicken or beef curry dishes. Popular food service establishments include Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Thai and Japanese restaurants but interestingly few Malay restaurants. Among the younger generation, many are accustomed to western style foods served by the fast food outlets and bakeries.