Brunei is a small, energy-rich Sultanate on the northern coast of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Brunei boasts a well-educated, largely English-speaking population, excellent infrastructure, and a government intent on attracting foreign investment and projects. In parallel with Brunei’s efforts to attract foreign investment and create an open and transparent investment regime, the country has taken steps to streamline the process for entrepreneurs and investors to establish businesses and has improved its protections for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).
Despite senior Bruneian leaders’ repeated calls for diversification, Brunei’s economy remains dependent on the income derived from sales of oil and gas, contributing about 50 percent to the country’s GDP. Substantial revenue from overseas investment supplements income from domestic hydrocarbon production. These two revenue streams provide a comfortable quality of life for Bruneians by regional standards. Citizens are not required to pay taxes and have access to free education through the university level, free medical care, and subsidized housing and car fuel.
Brunei has a stable political climate and is generally sheltered from natural disasters. Brunei’s central location in Southeast Asia, with good telecommunications and airline connections, business tax credits in specified sectors, and no income, sales, or export taxes, offers a welcoming climate for potential investors. Sectors offering U.S. business opportunities in Brunei include aerospace and defense, agribusiness, construction, petrochemicals, energy and mining, environmental technologies, food processing and packaging, franchising, health technologies, information and communication, digital finance, and services.
In 2014, Brunei began implementing sections of its Sharia Penal Code (SPC) that expanded preexisting restrictions on activities such as alcohol consumption, eating in public during the fasting hours in the month of Ramadan, and indecent behavior, with possible punishments including fines and imprisonment. The SPC functions in parallel with Brunei’s common law-based civil penal code. The government commenced full implementation of the SPC in 2019, introducing the possibility of corporal and capital punishments including, under certain evidentiary circumstances, amputation for theft and death by stoning for offenses including sodomy, adultery, and blasphemy. Government officials emphasize that sentencing to the most severe punishments is highly improbable due to the very high standard of proof required for conviction under the SPC. While the SPC does not specifically address business-related matters, potential investors should be aware that the SPC generated global controversy when it was implemented due to its draconian punishments and inherent discrimination toward LGBT communities. The sultan declared a moratorium on the death penalty for sharia crimes in response to the outcry and there have been no recorded incidents of U.S. citizens or U.S. investments directly affected by sharia law.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||35 of 175||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||66 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||71 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||$15 million||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||USD 32,230||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Brunei has an open economy favorable to foreign trade and FDI as the government continues its economic diversification efforts to limit its long reliance on oil and gas exports.
FDI is important to Brunei as it plays a key role in the country’s economic and technological development. Brunei encourages FDI in the domestic economy through various investment incentives offered by the Ministry of Finance and Economy.
Improving Brunei’s Ease of Doing Business status by upgrading the domestic business regulatory environment through a whole-of-nation approach has been a priority for the government. The World Bank Ease of Doing Business report indicated that Brunei ranked 66th overall out of 190 world economies in 2019. Brunei ranked first in the report’s “Getting Credit” category, tied with New Zealand, indicative of Brunei’s strong credit reporting mechanisms.
Brunei amended its laws to make it easier and quicker for entrepreneurs and investors to establish businesses. The Business License Act (Amendment) of 2016 exempts several business activities (eateries, boarding and lodging houses or other places of public resort; street vendors and stalls; motor vehicle dealers; petrol stations, including places for storing petrol and inflammable material; timber store and furniture factories; and retail shops and workshops) from needing to obtain a business license. The Miscellaneous License Act (Amendment) of 2015 reduced the wait times for new business registrants to start operations, with low-risk businesses like eateries and shops able to start operations immediately.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There is no restriction on foreign ownership of companies incorporated in Brunei. The Companies Act requires locally incorporated companies to have at least one of the two directors—or if more than two directors, at least two of them—to be ordinarily resident in Brunei, but exemptions may be obtained in some circumstances. The corporate income tax rate is the same whether the company is locally or foreign owned and managed.
All businesses in Brunei must be registered with the Registry of Companies and Business Names at the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Foreign investors can fully own incorporated companies, foreign company branches, or representative offices, but not sole proprietorships or partnerships.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
As part of Brunei’s effort to attract foreign investment, the government established the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) and Darussalam Enterprise (DARe) as facilitating agents under the Ministry of Finance and Economy. These organizations work together to smooth the process of obtaining permits, approvals, and licenses. Facilitating services are now consolidated into one government .
BEDB is the government’s frontline agency that promotes and facilitates foreign investment into Brunei. BEDB is responsible for evaluating investment proposals, liaising with government agencies, and obtaining project approval from the government’s Foreign Direct Investment and Downstream Industry Committee.
A major share of outward investment is made by the government through its sovereign wealth funds, which are managed by the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) under the Ministry of Finance and Economy. No data is available on the total investment amount due to a strict policy of secrecy. It is believed that the majority of sovereign wealth funds are invested in foreign portfolio investments and real estate. Despite the limited availability of public information regarding the amount, the funds are generally viewed positively and managed well by BIA.