Midland businesses in the food, pharmaceutical and fast-growing biotech sectors are being urged to explore opportunities in Brunei as the country seeks to position itself it the centre of the halal products industry.
The Asian nation, which is located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, is creating what is set to be the largest concentration of firms producing halal products in the world through its Brunei BioInnovation Corridor.
The corridor has been established to promote the development of halal-certified industries in Brunei and is focusing on halal food products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and logistics.
A massive investment, it is part of a drive by the oil-rich Asian country to diversify its economy away from a reliance on oil and gas.
The Brunei government wants to place itself at the epicentre of the fast-growing halal products industry, which is currently estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion a year.
The BioInnovation Corridor, being spearheaded by Brunei’s Halal Industry Innovation Centre, is to be created in three phases and will ultimately cover an area of 6 sq km.
To promote the venture a delegation from Brunei recently visited Birmingham in a bid to highlight the opportunities on offer.
The visit coincided with meetings with Midland universities and companies interested up operations in Brunei.
Gary Ho, managing director of consultancy SQW China, which is advising the Brunei government on the project, said: “The BioInnovation Corridor is an industrial and technological park dedicated to halal products designed to diversify the Brunei economy.
“We are looking for international collaborators, in terms of R&D, co-investment and technology transfer.”
Mr Ho said SQW and the Brunei government were currently targeting businesses globally with a view of helping the BioInnovation Corridor to grow.
He added: “We are talking to many countries including China, Hong Kong, the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as countries in Latin America and Europe.
“That is why we are here in the UK - in London and Birmingham.
“I myself know the West Midlands quite well, we have a lot of projects here in Coventry, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.
“Our company SQW is working with different science parks and we have working relationship with Warwick and Aston universities.”
Mr Ho said Birmingham and the wider Midlands were seen as an area that could deliver prospective partners in the scheme given its industrial strengths and the fact it is home to a significant proportion of the UK’s Asian population.
Normah Jamil, permanent secretary at Brunei’s ministry of industry and primary resources, who was part of the delegation visiting Birmingham, said: “We are using this as a tool to diversify our economy.
“This initiative is aimed at the halal industry, which is not well-served.
“There are1.8 billion Muslims globally and that number is increasing. The halal food industry alone is worth an estimated $634 billion.
“But halal is not just food but the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and high value biotech sectors.
“It offers very good potential for companies, particularly if they are interested in expanding their business into a niche product that is actually a trillion dollar business.
“By definition it is the fastest growing product in the world.”
She added: “What we are looking at is a very big picture. One of the reasons we came to Birmingham is because we feel there are a huge amount of companies we can work with and we are very keen to do so.”
Businesses interested in finding out more about halal industry opportunities in Brunei are also being wooed with a number of other incentives.
They include low taxes and trade tariffs, or in some cases none at all, as well as access to China, other Far Eastern countries and their large Moslem populations.
A trade agreement has already been formalised with China’s Guangxi region, offering a route to many of China’s Muslims.
Being a member of ASEAN (the Association of South East Asia Nations), Brunei also has free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and Korea.
Ms Jamil said: “There are zero tariffs to ship out - including China. For companies who want to expand into the region Brunei would be a very good choice.
“We can offer both a good operational environment and a friendly diplomatic environment.”
Mr Ho added: “The halal products industry is under-served but because it is under-served it means the market will grow.
“A well-served market will be substantially bigger so there is very good potential for business development.
“The Brunei government is very interested in manufacturers going there and they can do sole investment or co-investment.”
The BioInnovation Corridor is located in the Brunei-Muara District, just minutes from Brunei International Airport and the Muara Container Port is around half-an-hour away.
A two-day International Food and Bio-Industry Investment Conference is being held in Brunei in May for companies who are interested in setting up operations there.