Friends don't need to be lovers but lovers must be friends. Mexico and Indonesia are both friends and lovers. They are geographically distant -- one in North America, the other in Southeast Asia -- but they are not that far apart in their hearts, says Mexican ambassador to Indonesia.
"Mexico and Indonesia are so far away (from each other) geographically and yet we have been good friends for 55 years. This shows that we are close in our hearts. We are just an ocean away," Ambassador Melba Pria, a charismatic career-diplomat, told The Jakarta Post in an exclusive interview at her office recently.
This year, both Mexico and Indonesia are commemorating the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In fact, interaction between the two giants dates back to the 18th century when Spain ruled both the Philippines and Mexico. Certain parts of present-day Indonesia -- from Sulawesi to Flores (flores means flowers in Spanish) had contacts with the Spanish colonial regime.
"Before Indonesia was Indonesia, and before Mexico was Mexico, we used to get goods from Indonesia through Chinese ships sailing from the Philippines via Indonesia and China, all the way to Mexico.
"We introduced vanilla to Indonesia and Indonesia gave us cinnamon. It may (even) be the other way around because we have both," said Pria, who came to Indonesia nine months ago.
The relationship between the two countries is in excellent shape, Pria said.
"We have excellent relations with Indonesia. We don't remember once in 55 years that we have had a quarrel with Indonesia. We have common perceptions on many international issues at the multilateral organizations," she said.
"In trade, we are not as big as we should be on both sides. We have a little less than US$1 billion in bilateral trade. I hope we can reach the billion-dollar mark in the next couple of years," Pria said.
In 2007, the total trade value between Mexico and Indonesia had reached $870 million, which had more than doubled in the last four years.
Trade with Mexico has been heavily in favor of Indonesia for many years, thanks to strong Indonesian exports -- that reached $830 million last year. Mexico exported $40 million worth of goods to Indonesia in 2007.
"We still have to find ways to balance our bilateral trade, but we are very happy that Indonesians are active in exporting their goods to Mexico," Pria said.
Indonesia mainly exports rubber, textiles, ink-jet printers, palm oil and gold to Mexico, while it imports mainly tractors, cotton, aluminum scrap metal, silver, fish meal, computer parts and petroleum products from Mexico.
In an effort to promote both trade and investment, Indonesia sent a trade mission to Mexico in July 2008.
Indonesia regards Mexico as potentially a main economic partner not only in North America but also for the Central America and Latin America. With its GDP of $1.34 trillion, population of 109 million and enormous amounts of natural resources, Mexico is indeed a good partner for Southeast Asia's largest economy in that part of the world.
"This trade mission has become very important not only for us to learn more about the Mexican market but also to look for trade and investment opportunities for Indonesian businesspeople in Mexico and vice versa," Indonesian Trade Ministry's National Export Promotion Agency (BPEN) chief, Bachrul Chairi, said in a press release sent to the Post.
Both countries recently agreed to sign an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement to enhance cooperation in the field of investments. The two are also currently negotiating an MoU on the Indonesia-Mexico Joint Trade and Investment Committee, and the Trade Agreement between Indonesia and Mexico.
Indonesia is also planning to open its trade promotion center in Mexico City this year to promote bilateral trade and utilize Mexico's membership in the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).
"Indonesian companies can gain a lot through joint ventures with Mexican companies. If we combine our products, they will have much lower tariffs entering the U.S. and other countries because of NAFTA," Pria said.
In a manner befitting commemorations for the 55-year-old friendship, and to give new shape to existing relations, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono plans to travel to Mexico in November.
"It (Yudhoyono's visit) is in the pipeline, but it is largely confirmed. It's a good time for President Yudhoyono to go to Mexico," Pria said.
When asked about her main mission in Indonesia, Pria said she wanted to "deepen" Mexico's relationship with Indonesia.
"Deepening in the sense that we have to enhance our trade and investments in Indonesia and interaction between the governments and people.
"Indonesia is our strategic partner in the Southeast Asian region. We are also a strategic partner for Indonesia (in North America)," she said.
Pria said people-to-people contacts between the two countries were on the rise. For example, the Indonesian Embassy in Mexico issued visas to 860 Mexican visitors (excluding visitors who got their visa on arrival in Indonesia) in 2007. Around 835 Indonesians visited Mexico that same year. Also, several Mexican students are currently studying in Indonesia.
Pria had much praise for the people of Indonesia.
"You can't find better people than Indonesians. This place makes me feel absolutely at home. The people here are very kind, friendly and helpful" Pria said.
She said her job was made easier thanks to Mexican telenovelas, which had become popular in Indonesia of late.
"Now most Indonesians know (a little) about Mexico and Mexican names," Pria said.
The friendship had reached a milestone recently, Pria continued.
"Mexico sent three big ships full of food, medicine, relief materials and doctors to Indonesia to help tsunami victims in Aceh and Nias island.
"We were overwhelmed when President Yudhoyono presented an award to us for helping tsunami victims earlier this year," Pria said.
"We did it because our hearts told us to do so .... This shows the depth of our commitment to Indonesia and our friendship with Indonesia," she said.
There is a saying that goes "Love me now, love me never, but if you love me, love me forever". It seems both Mexico and Indonesia will be moving in this direction in decades to come.