Interview with Mari Elka Pangestu, Indonesian Minister of Trade.
With politics taking precedence over “economics and trade” and India entering into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the ASEAN bloc, commerce has become the new buzz word in intra-regional relations. India's ties with Indonesia, one of the biggest Asian democracies along with India, have grown stronger over the years. The Indonesian Minister of Trade, Mari Elka Pangestu, recently in India, talked to Sujay Mehdudia, about trade relations, commonalities among the two countries and giving a new fillip to the relationship during next month's visit of Indonesian President H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to New Delhi.
How would you define the relationship between India and Indonesia?
India and Indonesia enjoy a very warm and “strategic partnership” in the region and this has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. The trade between the two nations has outgrown the set targets well before schedule showing the strong bond the two nations enjoy. In 2005, both the countries set a target of achieving $10 billion trade turnover by 2010 against $4 billion at that time. We have been able to achieve that target in 2008 and hope to end the 2010 fiscal with $12 billion trade turnover which speaks volumes about the complimentary nature of our people and economies.
How do you see this graph progressing in future and what in your opinion should be done to give a new dimension to this relationship?
As the global economy is still in the recovery stage and the Western countries are still grappling with various economic issues, this provides a huge opportunity to both India and Indonesia to capitalise on the situation. Both the nations need to have a more diversified basket of goods and services to take the economic partnership between both the countries to a new level. We need to set up more institutional mechanisms for Business to Business and Business to Government negotiations. As I mentioned, India-Indonesia trade has already touched $10 billion during January-October 2010 and could cross $12 billon by the year end. This target is likely to be doubled to $24 billion when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visits India to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade on January 26 and also holds talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Although, the trade among the two economies has grown tremendously, people to people exchanges and international transport linkage remain an area of concern. What is your take on that?
There have been some issues pertaining to direct links between the two countries but negotiations are on with the Indian counterparts to link Jakarta directly with major Indian cities. Tourism is another major area where Indonesia has much to offer to the ever growing outgoing number of Indian tourists. Efforts are on to have direct flights from Jakarta to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. It is important that with growing trade, both the nations should provide easy access to their people and the business community at large.
What are the potential areas of investment that Indonesia could offer to the Indian business community?
There is an exponential growth in inter-connectivity in Indonesia and this is a huge potential market for Indian investors in this sector. Indonesia offers huge potential and opportunity in the automobile sector, textiles, engineering products — heavy machinery being a good area for cooperation — electronics, consumer products, processed and manufactured goods, pharmaceuticals, creative industry, mining, agro-based products, oil and gas, mining support services, rubber goods, infrastructure and real estate. We hope that India will be the number one investor in Indonesia in the next few years.
How do view the visit of the Indonesian President to India?
My visit to India is aimed at a follow-up on a number of bilateral issues as part of efforts to improve trade between the two countries and to prepare for the visit of the Indonesian President to India in early 2011. Mr. Yudhoyono would be in India to enhance the two countries' economic partnership. The joint study group on the Indonesia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement has already submitted its report and a final view is likely to be taken during the visit of the Indonesian President. A number of important bilateral economic and strategic agreements are likely to be signed during Mr. Yudhoyono's visit. We need to take it further to have a far-reaching and wide spectrum agreement for giving a new thrust to future bilateral trade, economic development and investment cooperation between the two countries.
How does Indonesia view the global multilateral trade talks, also called the Doha Round, for the future of the global economic recovery?
There is little doubt that the multilateral trade links in developing countries will be a significant driver of economic recovery and growth. There is a very strong call to safeguard the world trade system. We need a strong political will for that. I cannot emphasise enough the risk of a failure in a multilateral trading system for a developing country. We firmly believe that for the global economic recovery, it is important that the Doha Round be completed without any further delay and an equitable trading regime is put in place.
What are your areas of concern where you feel that the Indian economy could open up?
We strongly feel that India should open up its retail sector where Indonesia has a lot to offer through its own marketing chains. Similarly, banking is an area of lot of opportunity and that needs to be addressed by the Indian counterparts. We are hopeful that the India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreement on services and goods would be put in place by March 2011 before the India-ASEAN summit. The ASEAN is in favour of 10 plus one formula whereas India wants a one plus 10 formula in this regard. We hope to convince India about the ASEAN stand which is unlikely to change. We hope India would see reason and is able to finalise the deal by March next year.