Indonesia and Australia hope to forge trade deal

Trade Minister Andrew Robb. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Australia says it will prioritise signing a trade agreement with Indonesia in the hope that the deal will be made within 12 months.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb and his Indonesian counterpart Tom Lembong have agreed to reinvigorate stalled talks on economic partnership in the new year.
The minister is leading a large Australian trade delegation of more than 350 business people to Indonesia.
Mr Robb says Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull established a “strong meeting of the minds” with President Joko Widodo when they met for the first time last week, paving the way for the fresh talks.
“We’ve been dealing with others in 12 months so I can’t see why we won’t deal with this one in 12 months,” he told reporters in Yogyakarta, referring to agreements with South Korea and China.
“My sense was that we needed to get better momentum with the commercial relationship.
“We’ve got 250 companies here in Indonesia, that is unsatisfactory…. We should have 1,000 companies.
“I’d rather have 85 per cent first up rather than hanging out for many years for 100 per cent as was the case with many of these agreements.”
The trade mission, known as Indonesia Australia Business Week, is an effort to address this the fact that Indonesia is only Australia’s 12th-largest trading partner despite its proximity.
Two-way trade with the market of 250 million people is only worth a fraction of bilateral trade with New Zealand.
A barrier to trade has been Indonesia unpredictable regulatory policies, including the shock decision from Jakarta earlier this year to slash cattle import permits.
Australian farmers had to scramble to find other markets and beef became unaffordable for Indonesians. As a consequence, the trade minister was replaced by Mr Lembong.
Mr Robb said the new minister’s statements on removing barriers to investment, as well as the president’s interest in signing up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, were a “breath of fresh air” for potential traders.
“It’s a very ambitious statement, but it’s a very important one and these things tend to move people,” he said.
Mr Lembong said Indonesia’s “unfriendly” protectionist measures have taken a toll on Indonesia.
He told Philippine website Rappler it was time for a change. He reportedly said: “We’re not a defensive culture, we’re not a closed culture, we’re not a culture of losers. We’re a culture of winners, we’re a self-confident society.”

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