Indonesia's trade minister calls for TPP membership in 2 years

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's trade minister on Friday (Oct 9) appealed for widespread support for the government's belated bid to join the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) within two years.

Mr Tom Lembong said firms would continue to invest in South-east Asia's largest economy as long as there was certainty that it would eventually be part of the TPP free trade agreement and conclude a similar pact with the European Union. "If the government can give that, in two to three years we would have TPP and the European (agreement), they will keep on investing in Indonesia," he said.

But Mr Lembong added that agriculture, industry and other ministries would have to overcome stiff resistance from "narrow interests" that would resist trade liberalisation.

Twelve Pacific Rim countries earlier this week reached an agreement for the most ambitious trade pact in a generation, aiming to liberalise commerce in 40 per cent of the world's economy.

Last month, Indonesia started preliminary talks with the European Union on a trade agreement. It will begin formal negotiations next January, said Mr Bachrul Chairi, director general of international trade cooperation at the trade ministry.

"The EU and TPP have more or less the same threshold so when we're done with EU, we can get ourselves ready for TPP," Mr Chairi said.

The Indonesian government was initially opposed to joining the TPP, but has changed its stance under President Joko Widodo, who took office in October last year.

It is not clear whether Indonesia has made a formal membership request to the TPP.

Widodo is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama on Oct. 26 in his first presidential visit to Washington, during which he will discuss business and investment ties.

Mr Ade Sudrajat, chairman of Indonesia's textile association, said the industry needs better access to US and EU markets in order to maintain market share in the face of competition from fellow textile producer Vietnam, which has a trade agreement with EU and is included in the TPP.