RI, US seek win-win solution to thorny trade issues
Haeril Halim, Liza Yosephine and Fedina S. Sundaryani
The Jakarta Post
From trade barriers to a spat between Indonesia and United States mining giant Freeport McMoRan, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and visiting US Vice President Mike Pence got down to brass tacks in their meeting on Thursday.
In a one-hour courtesy call to Jokowi, Pence had a one-on-one chat over tea with the President on the veranda of the State Palace with no ministers or officials in tow.
Pence is the first member of US President Donald Trump’s administration to visit Southeast Asia.
“The President sent me here as a sign of high value the US places on our strategic partnerships with Indonesia,” said Pence.
Pence took the time to clarify the inclusion of Indonesia this month on the list of 16 countries that had contributed significantly to the US’ accumulating trade imbalances.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, the US seeks a trade relationship that is both free and fair for job creation and economic growth for both parties, as President Widodo has said so often, ‘we are looking for win-win relationships’ and we are confident that we can find them,” said Pence.
“We believe we must level the playing field, break down barriers to ensure that American exporters can fully participate in the Indonesian market, the same freedom that Indonesian exporters have had in many sectors in the US for many years.”
Pence went on to say that the US expected progress for the objectives in the coming weeks.
Indonesia is in 15th place on Trump’s trade hit list, with a trade surplus of US$13 billion over the US -- Indonesia’s biggest export destination with a 12 percent share.
Apparel and clothing accessories accounted for the biggest share of exports to the US in 2015, according to the International Trade Center’s Trade Map.
Indonesia’s main imports from the US, meanwhile, are machinery, mechanical appliances, and power generation boilers.
“Economically, President Trump and I seek to expand the US’ commercial relationship with Indonesia. And the President and I spoke about that very openly today and we look forward to those discussions continuing,” said Pence.
In response to the US’ demand for greater access, Jokowi said a team would resolve trade and investment issues with the US next month. “The solution should be based on the win-win principle,” Jokowi said.
The President also said the US was committed to improving the US-Indonesia Strategic Partnership sealed in 2011 by focusing more on the investments of US companies in Indonesia.
Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said the President had also made an effort to convince Pence to accept Indonesia’s rationale to demand Freeport divest 51 percent of its shares in its local unit that operated the world’s biggest gold deposit.
“The talks between the President and Pence were pleasant. Pence is very satisfied with the President’s explanation that Indonesia demands more shares from Freeport,” Luhut said after a meeting with Jokowi.
Freeport is Indonesia’s oldest foreign investor. Since commencing operations more than five decades ago, Freeport has been perceived by many Indonesian politicians and activists as a symbol of US economic imperialism in Indonesia.
Pence did not publicly mention Freeport, but only made a general statement about US companies operating in Indonesia.
“American companies have been doing business in Indonesia for years and American products and services contributed greatly to Indonesia’s economic development. But, we believe we still have room for significant progress.”
The US was Indonesia’s seventh-biggest investor last year, according to Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry.
Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) chairman Thomas Lem-bong said talks with his US counterpart next month would seek to reevaluate current economic relations, noting that Pence’s visit came at the right time, placing attention on new industries, especially technology and services.
Aside from business issues, Pence also took the time to explore ways to strengthen defense partnership to confront various security threats, including terrorism.
“Sadly, Indonesia is no stranger to this evil, nor is the US,” he said.
“As the largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia’s modern Islam frankly is an inspiration to the world.”
In terms of regional peace, Pence said the US would work with Indonesia to defend the rulebased system that was the foundation of Southeast Asia’s peace and prosperity. “The US will uphold the fundamental freedoms of navigation and over flight in the South China Sea and throughout the Asia Pacific. We’ll ensure the unimpeded flow of lawful commerce and promote peaceful diplomatic dialogue to address issues of regional and global concern.”
After the meeting with Jokowi, Pence held bilateral talks with Vice President Jusuf Kalla for less than 30 minutes.
Pence and Kalla are slated to witness the signing of agreements worth $8 billion between state energy company Pertamina and US ExxonMobil, as well as state power company PLN with Pacific Intra Capital Pacific LLC during Friday’s business forum.
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