Monday, July 14, 2003

Kota Kinabalu-Balikpapan link revives growth spirit

Source: New Sabah Times

Kota Kinabalu: When the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) was first formed n Davao City, Philippines in 1994, it was seen to be a “panacea” for the pain and hurdles in promoting greater economic integration among the member nations.

For two years, there had been silver linings with a myriad of Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) being signed that covered numerous areas such as airlinks, joint tour packages and trade.

But the sudden change in the economic tide in 1994 floored the push towards the implementation of well-places plans. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the proposed joint development within the EAGA framework ran into snail’s pace.

Now, the uncertainty over the EAGA’s future is taking a back seat as the 1994 BIMP-EAGA’s spirit comes to the forefront. The inauguration of the first direct flight by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) from Kota Kinabalu to Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, Indonesia on July 4 has been a boost to this spirit. A day earlier direct flights between Kuching and Balikpapan were launched.

“The inaugural flight especially from here to Balikpapan was exciting. I was on the flight.. so I saw for myself the business potentials in East Kalimantan (Kaltim),” Datuk Ajit Galun, President of the Kadazandusun Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Bernama here yesterday.

“It (Kaltim) is a thriving province .. it has oil, gas, coal reserves, big plantations and many other natural resources. I think the prospect is there for joint venture business.”

Ajit was one of the members of the state’s trade delegation that flew to Balikpapan during the MAS inaugural flight. The delegation was led by Sabah Assistant Minister of Industrial Development Baharum Abdul Rahman.

In order to revive the activities within the BIMP-EAGA regions, communication especially an airlink was very important, Ajit said.

“During our visit to Samarinda (the capital of Kaltim), we were briefed at the Governor’s office. They had appointed several corporate figures to look for possible investments in agriculture, mining, infrastructure, tourism and forestry,” he said.

As a result of the direct air link, Sabah businessmen had met eye to eye with their counterparts in East Kalimantan with a view to fostering business cooperation. “We must remember that Balikpapan is the gateway to Kalimantan. In fact once we reach Balikpapan, we an move to other parts of Kalimantan by road or sea. That’s why we should capitalize on this to broaden our business sphere,” he added.

Ajit said the direct link also paved the way for easier movement of skilled labour from Kalimantan to Sabah. Apart from that, he suggested that cross-border trading between Sabah and East Kalimantan be properly coordinated to ensure the smooth running of joint ventures.

Ajit also called for the resumption of the Kota Kinabalu-Davao flight to activate trade particularly between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

“Of course, there are huge potentials and prospects for cooperation in trade and investment. But first of all, for the investors to dump their money in Southern Philippines, security must be in place,” he said. Meanwhile, Executive Director of Malaysia’s Malays Chamber of Commerce Sabah Chapter Mohamad Ghazali Mohamad Nadzir said the direct flight service between Kota Kinabalu and Balikpapan was timely boost to the slow trading activities within the region.

“We can no longer depend on local business opportunities, we must go beyond our territory in line with the globalization process. So we hope that HIMP-EAGA will prosper as planned in future,” he said.

BIMP-EAGA includes Brunei Darussalam, North Sulawesi, East Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Maluku in Indonesia, Sabah, Saraka and the Federal Territory of Labuan in Malaysia; Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines. - Bernama

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