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Brunei: Market Profile

Picture: Brunei factsheet
Picture: Brunei factsheet

1. Overview

Brunei is located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, facing the South China Sea, and is surrounded by East Malaysia. It gained independence from the UK in 1984. Its economy is heavily resource-dependent, with the oil and gas sector accounting for almost two-thirds of its GDP. The country's large foreign reserve assets, low external debt and high import cover reduce overall risks, although a dip in oil-related revenues may place pressure on fiscal revenues. While the country is largely seen in the international community as a producer of oil and gas, it is currently undertaking a number of projects in a bid to further diversify its economy. Furthermore, the country’s political stability, low rates of inflation, high standard of living and wealthy population (GDP per capita) provide tailwinds to Brunei's long-term growth.

Sources: World Bank, Fitch Solutions

2. Major Economic/Political Events and Upcoming Elections

April 2014
Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt shari’a law.

September 2016
Brunei ratified the Paris global climate agreement.

September 2018
South Korea signed new defence agreements with Brunei.

Sources: BBC country profile – Timeline, Fitch Solutions

3. Major Economic Indicators

Graph: Brunei real GDP and inflation
Graph: Brunei real GDP and inflation
Graph: Brunei GDP by sector (2017)
Graph: Brunei GDP by sector (2017)
Graph: Brunei unemployment rate
Graph: Brunei unemployment rate
Graph: Brunei current account balance
Graph: Brunei current account balance

e = estimate, f = forecast
Sources: IMF, World Bank
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

4. External Trade

4.1 Merchandise Trade

Brunei merchandise trade
Brunei merchandise trade

Source: WTO
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

Brunei major export commodities (2017)
Brunei major export commodities (2017)
Graph: Brunei major export markets (2017)
Graph: Brunei major export markets (2017)
Brunei major import commodities (2017)
Brunei major import commodities (2017)
Graph: Brunei major import markets (2017)
Graph: Brunei major import markets (2017)

Sources: Trade Map, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

4.2 Trade in Services

Brunei trade in services
Brunei trade in services

e = estimate
Sources: Trade Map, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

5. Trade Policies

  • Brunei joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January 1995 and has been a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) since December 1993.

  • The Customs Import Duty Order 2012 and Excise Duty Order 2012 were created to facilitate trade and to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). Basic foodstuffs and goods for numerous industrial uses are exempt from import duties. There is no tax on computers and peripherals. Excise duties are levied on certain goods, including cars at 20% and 15% for heavy vehicles. Other consumer products, such as perfume, cosmetics, clothes, carpets, shoes, jewellery, office equipment, telephones, television sets, lamps and cameras are taxed at 5%. Import duties are also 5% for electronically operated industrial machines.

  • Brunei views free trade agreements (FTAs) as a vital part of its foreign trade policy. To date, Brunei, through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), has concluded FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan and South Korea.

  • Bilaterally, Brunei has concluded an economic partnership agreement with Japan (the Brunei-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement) and a multilateral agreement with Chile, New Zealand and Singapore (the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEPA)).

  • As the signatories to the TPSEPA, Brunei is involved in the negotiations for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

  • Brunei is emphasising its halal food industry as one of its key industries in an effort to diversify its economy. The country is promoting its own halal food certification regime that is entirely different from other halal certification organisations, which requires Bruneian inspectors to travel to production facilities in the country of the food exporter, at the exporter’s expense, to inspect the food production process.

Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, Fitch Solutions

6. Trade Agreement

6.1 Multinational Trade Agreements


  • ASEAN: This association was established on August 8, 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the founding members of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei joined on January 7, 1984. The ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted by the ASEAN leaders on the 30th anniversary of ASEAN, agreed on a shared vision of ASEAN to promote economic growth and regional stability. ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. ASEAN members have agreed to lower intra-regional trade tariffs through the Common Effective Preferential Tariff Scheme for the ASEAN Free Trade Area.

  • The ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA): Signed on February 27, 2009, this was ASEAN's first FTA with two developed countries simultaneously, and the first ASEAN FTA completed in a single undertaking. AANZFTA represents ASEAN's most ambitious FTA to date, covering 18 chapters, including new areas that ASEAN had previously not negotiated on, such as competition policy and intellectual property. AANZFTA also includes an AANZFTA Economic Cooperation Support Programme, which will provide technical assistance and capacity building to the parties of the AANZFTA, with the aim of supporting the implementation of the agreement, and the overall regional economic integration process. As of 2012, the agreement has entered into force for all parties and work is currently underway to resolve and implement the built-in agenda as stipulated under the agreement.

  • The ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership: The framework for the comprehensive economic partnership between ASEAN and Japan was signed by leaders at the ASEAN-Japan Summit on October 8, 2003. The agreement on Comprehensive Economic Partnership among member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (AJCEP) and Japan was concluded in November 2007 and signing was completed ad-referendum by April 14, 2008. The AJCEP is comprehensive in scope, with chapters on trade in goods; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures; investment; services; and economic cooperation. The agreement aims at liberalising and facilitating trade in goods between ASEAN and Japan and promoting co-operation in fields such as information and communications technology, intellectual property and small- and medium-sized development. The parties will also continue to discuss and negotiate improvements to the chapters on trade in services and investment. Brunei submitted its notification on the completion of domestic procedures for the AJCEP on November 29, 2008, and the agreement entered into force for Brunei on January 1, 2009.

  • The ASEAN-South Korea FTA: ASEAN and South Korea consolidated their partnership by signing the framework agreement on comprehensive economic cooperation at the ninth ASEAN-Republic of Korea Summit on December 13, 2005, which provides for the establishment of the ASEAN-South Korea Free Trade Area (AK-FTA). Under this framework, three major agreements on trade in goods, trade in services and investment were subsequently signed on August 24, 2006, November 20, 2007 and June 2, 2009, respectively. The agreement provides for progressive reduction and elimination of tariffs by each country on almost all products. Under the trade in goods agreement (TIG), ASEAN-6, including Brunei and South Korea, had eliminated more than 90% of tariffs by January 1, 2010. In efforts to further strengthen the bilateral trade relations, ASEAN and South Korea agreed to look into further liberalisation of the sensitive products in the sensitive track of the TIG, pursuant to the decision of the ministers at the 12th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM)-South Korea Consultations in 2015.

  • The ASEAN-India FTA: The ASEAN-India TIG was signed at the seventh AEM-India Consultations on August 13, 2009. The agreement entered into force on January 1, 2010 for India and some ASEAN member states. For Brunei, its date of implementation was on June 1, 2010. The ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreements were signed in November 2014. Both agreements entered into force on July 1, 2015 for six ASEAN member states, namely Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as for India, which have notified their ratification of the agreements.

  • The Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and China (ASEAN-China FTA): The ASEAN-China FTA was signed on November 5, 2002 and marked ASEAN's first FTA with a dialogue partner. The framework comprises three main agreements to date: trade in goods, trade in services and investment, which were concluded in November 2004, January 2007 and August 2009 respectively. At the 16th ASEAN-China Summit on October 9, 2013 in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, the Leaders agreed to pursue the upgrading of the ASEAN-China FTA by improving market conditions and trade balance between both sides, as well as expanding the scope and coverage of the agreement.

  • The Brunei-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (BJEPA): The BJEPA is Brunei's first bilateral FTA. The BJEPA was signed on June 18, 2007 and entered into force on July 31, 2008. There are 11 chapters in the agreement covering trade in goods; rules of origin; trade in services; investment, energy, cooperation; improvement of business environment, custom procedures; general provisions; final provisions; and dispute settlement. With the signing of the BJEPA, Brunei and Japan's relations have moved to a higher level, particularly in the economic sphere. The BJEPA is aimed at increasing new market opportunities for Brunei in goods and services and attracting more investment to Brunei. Market access between Brunei and Japan will also be improved (through the reduction of import duties). In 2016, Japan was Brunei's largest export partner, with Brunei exporting over a third of its total exports to Japan. The majority of the products were mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation and bituminous substances.

  • Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (P4): P4 is an FTA between Brunei, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand and was signed on July 18, 2005, and entered into force on May 1, 2006. In 2009, after finalising its Services Schedule and Government Procurement List, Brunei completed its ratification process, and the agreement fully entered into force for Brunei on July 22, 2009. The agreement offers strategic benefits for all four partners and builds a bridge between Latin America, the Pacific and Asia. The agreement can also help advance shared objectives in APEC and the WTO. The P4 also has side agreements, namely the Environment Cooperation Agreement and Labour Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding, to reflect a shared desire to encourage and promote sound labour and environmental practices. These agreements establish mechanisms for ongoing cooperation and dialogue on labour and environment issues.
  • The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP): CPTPP, also known as TPP11, has been ratified and will come into effect on December 30, 2018. The agreement encompasses Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.


  • ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA: The agreement was signed in November 2017, three years after the negotiations started in 2014. According to the economic ministers from ASEAN member states, the agreement is the sixth such agreement between ASEAN and external partners (China, Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand).

Under Negotiation

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): RCEP is an FTA involving the ASEAN member countries and their six ASEAN-FTA partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). This entails a population of more than three billion people that contributes around a third of the world's GDP. The RCEP is envisioned to be a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement that aims to advance economic cooperation and broaden and deepen integration in the region, building on existing economic linkages.

Sources: WTO Regional Trade Agreements database, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Brunei), Fitch Solutions

7. Investment Policy

7.1 Foreign Direct Investment

Graph: Brunei FDI stock
Graph: Brunei FDI stock
Graph: Brunei FDI flow
Graph: Brunei FDI flow

Source: UNCTAD
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

7.2 Foreign Direct Investment Policy

  1. Brunei has an open economy that is favourable to FDI as the government continues its economic diversification efforts to limit its long reliance on oil and gas exports.

  2. In 2014, Brunei released an Energy White Paper outlining its vision of leveraging its oil wealth to diversify its economy, create local employment, increase FDI and sharply increase the use of renewable energy by 2035.

  3. Brunei encourages FDI in the domestic economy through various investment incentives offered by the Energy and Industry Department, prime minister’s office, and through activities conducted by the Ministry of Foreign and Trade and the Brunei Economic Development Board.

  4. Major FDI projects underway include the Hengyi Refinery at Pulau Muara Besar and Brunei Fertilizer Industries at the Sungai Liang Industrial Park. These projects contribute towards achieving the Vision 2035 development plan.

  5. 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 licence. The Miscellaneous License Act (Amendment) of 2015 reduces the wait times for new business registrants to start operations, with low-risk businesses such as eateries and shops able to start operations immediately.

  6. There is no restriction on total 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 rate of corporate income tax is the same whether the company is locally or foreign owned and managed.

  7. Companies involved in the exportation of agriculture, forestry and fishery products can apply for tax relief on export profits. For non-pioneer enterprises, the tax relief period is eight years and up to 11 years for pioneer enterprises.

  8. The corporate income tax rate in Brunei has been reduced from 30% (2007 and earlier) to the current rate of 18.5% (from 2015 onwards).

Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, ITA, US Department of Commerce, EY, Borneo Bulletin, Fitch Solutions

7.3 Free Trade Zones and Investment Incentives

Free Trade Zone/Incentive ProgrammeMain Incentives Available
Muara Export Zone (MEZ)Muara Port is Brunei's main seaport with an established free trade zone called the MEZ, which was established to promote and develop Brunei as a trade hub of the region.

Key advantages for businesses include:

– Subsidised warehousing and industrial space
– Access to a deep sea port
– Various tax incentives, including exemption from corporate income tax for 15 years

Sources: Government websites, Fitch Solutions

8. Taxation – 2018

  • Value Added Tax: 0%
  • Corporate Income Tax: 19%

Source: EY 2018

8.1 Important Updates to Taxation Information

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be set at 0% from June 1, 2018, according to the Finance Ministry. The Ministry said that the reduction of the rate from the current 6% to 0% will be implemented nationwide until a further announcement is made. This decision does not include goods and services listed in the GST (Exempt Supply) Order 2014, which remain exempted.

8.2 Business Taxes

Type of TaxTax Rate and Base
Resident company: Corporate Tax Rates- 18.5% or 55% for oil and gas industries

- The first BND100,000 of chargeable income is taxed at a reduced rate (25% of the full rate). The next BND150,000 is taxed at 50% of the full rate. The balance of chargeable income is taxed at the full rate. If certain enterprises and industries are considered essential to the country's development then they may be exempted from taxation.

- Companies which have gross sales or turnover of BND1 million or less are exempted from corporate income tax or charged with a 0% corporate income tax.
Capital Gains Tax0% (activities otherwise taxed as part of income tax)
Sales Tax0%
Withholding Tax: dividends0%
Withholding Tax: interest15%
Withholding Tax: royalties10%

Sources: EY 2018, KPMG, Brunei Darussalam Ministry of Finance and Economy
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

9. Foreign Worker Requirements

9.1 Foreign Worker Quota

Brunei seeks to increase the number of Bruneians working in the private sector. Brunei's 2014 Energy White Paper calls for the number of people employed in the energy sector to increase from 20,000 in 2010 to 50,000 in 2035, and for the number of locals employed in the sector to increase from 10,000 to 40,000 during the same period. To advance this goal, all companies competing for a tender in the oil and gas industry are required to have at least half of their employees be Bruneian.

The authorities in Brunei have introduced a foreign worker licence – or Lesen Pekeria Asing. Before applying for the licence, employers need clearance from JobCentre Brunei and must obtain an endorsement from the Employees Trust Fund (Tabung Amanah Pekerja).

9.2 Visa Selection

Expatriate employment is controlled by a labour quota system administered by the labour department and the issuance of employment passes by the immigration department. Brunei allows new companies to apply for special approval to expedite the recruitment of expatriate workers in selected positions.

Foreigners coming to Brunei for employment purposes need a valid employment visa and employment pass before entering the country. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, with residents from certain countries (Cambodia, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Myanmar, Norway, China, Philippines, Peru, Qatar, Switzerland, Thailand and Vietnam) able to visit Brunei without an employment visa for a period of 14 days. Citizens of Australia, Iceland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Singapore, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Ukraine may travel without an employment visa for a maximum period of 30 days. Citizens of the United States and the European Union are allowed a visa-free business visit for 90 days.

Sources: Government websites, ASEAN Briefing, Fitch Solutions

10. Risks

10.1 Sovereign Credit Ratings

Rating (Outlook)Rating Date
Standard & Poor'sN/AN/A
Fitch RatingsN/AN/A

Sources: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings

10.2 Competitiveness and Efficiency Indicators

World Ranking
Ease of Doing Business Index
Ease of Paying Taxes Index
Logistics Performance Index
Corruption Perception Index
IMD World CompetitivenessN/AN/AN/A

Sources: World Bank, IMD, Transparency International

10.3 Fitch Solutions Risk Indices

World Ranking
Economic Risk Index Rank87/202
Short-Term Economic Risk Score43.150.651.5
Long-Term Economic Risk Score53.852.553.4
Political Risk Index Rank89/202
Short-Term Political Risk Score90.690.890.8
Long-Term Political Risk Score63.865.165.1
Operational Risk Index Rank54/201
Operational Risk Score63.559.260.9

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: September 19, 2018

10.4 Fitch Solutions Risk Summary

Brunei's economic recovery is expected to firm up in 2019, supported by stronger overseas orders and the government's diversification plans. Nevertheless, the economy remains vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices. Economic momentum remained positive in the second quarter of 2018, buoyed by strong growth in the oil sector, which is benefitting from higher oil prices and robust global demand. Oil exports picked up and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports recovered on strong demand from Japan, Brunei's largest LNG export recipient. Imports surged over 40% in May 2018 on robust machinery and transport equipment imports, suggesting that fixed investment also strengthened. Although the manufacturing sector will likely continue to struggle to take off, the improvement in the business environment should aid the sultanate's plan to diversify the economy away from oil and gas into banking and financial services. Furthermore, the high standards of living and wealthy population (GDP per capita) provide tailwinds to Brunei's long-term growth.

Energy-rich 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 improved its protections for intellectual property rights. With a relatively free and open trading regime, as well as a small but highly educated workforce, Brunei sees engagement on FTAs as an important step in ensuring that its people, goods, services and investments have continued access to wider markets around the world. However, registering property and trading across borders remain cumbersome, and together with an expensive and small labour force Brunei's operational risk environment must develop further if it is to catch up with its larger ASEAN peers.

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

10.5 Fitch Solutions Political and Economic Risk Indices 

Brunei short term political risk index
Brunei short term political risk index
Brunei long term political risk index
Brunei long term political risk index
Brunei short term economic risk index
Brunei short term economic risk index
Brunei long term economic risk index
Brunei long term economic risk index

100 = Lowest risk, 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Political and Economic Risk Indices
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

10.6 Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Operational RiskLabour Market RiskTrade and Investment RiskLogistics RiskCrime and Security Risk
Brunei Score60.962.857.253.070.6
East and Southeast Asia Average55.356.555.754.454.4
East and Southeast Asia Position (out of 18)768
Asia Average48.950.647.747.150.1
Asia Position (out of 35)768125
Global Average49.749.850.049.349.9
Global Position (out of 201)5425708138

100 = Lowest risk, 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Brunei vs global and regional averages
Brunei vs global and regional averages
Operational Risk
Labour Market RiskTrade and Investment RiskLogistics RiskCrime and Security Risk
Hong Kong81.671.2
South Korea70.963.5
North Korea33.149.6
Regional Averages55.256.555.754.054.4
Emerging Markets Averages46.848.047.545.7
Global Markets Averages49.649.749.9

100 = Lowest risk, 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

11. Hong Kong Connection

11.1 Hong Kong’s Trade with Brunei

Graph: Major export commodities to Brunei (2017)
Graph: Major export commodities to Brunei (2017)
Major import commodities from Brunei (2017)
Major import commodities from Brunei (2017)

Note: Graph shows the main Hong Kong exports to/import from Brunei (by consignment)

Graph: Merchandise exports to Brunei
Graph: Merchandise exports to Brunei
Graph: Merchandise imports from Brunei
Graph: Merchandise imports from Brunei

Note: Graph shows Hong Kong exports to/import from Brunei (by consignment)
Exchange Rate HK$/US$, average
7.76 (2013)
7.75 (2014)
7.75 (2015)
7.76 (2016)
7.79 (2017)
Sources: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

Growth rate (%)
Number of Brunei residents visiting Hong Kong6,922-13.5

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, Fitch Solutions

2017Growth rate (%)
Number of Asian residents visiting Hong Kong54,482,5383.5

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, Hong Kong Immigration Department, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018

11.2 Commercial Presence in Hong Kong

Growth rate (%)
Number of Brunei companies in Hong KongN/AN/A
- Regional headquarters
- Regional offices
- Local offices

Source: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department

11.3 Treaties and Agreements between Hong Kong and Brunei

Brunei has a comprehensive double taxation agreement with Hong Kong that entered into force in December 2010.

Source: Hong Kong Department of Justice

11.4 Chamber of Commerce (or Related Organisations) in Hong Kong

Consulate General of Brunei Darussalam in Hong Kong, People's Republic of China
Address: Room 05-07, 24/F, Tower 2, Lippo Centre, 89 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Email: hongkong.china@mfa.gov.bn
Tel: (852) 2592 3900 / 2592 3917 / 2592 3918
Fax: (852) 2522 3715

Source: Consulate General of Brunei Darussalam in Hong Kong, People's Republic of China

11.5 Visa Requirements for Hong Kong Residents

Hong Kong residents do not need a visa to travel to Brunei for a period of up to 14 days.

Date last reviewed: November 12, 2018
Source: Immigration Department

Content provided by Picture: Fitch Solutions – BMI Research
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