Indonesia wants to join TPP trade pact, says Jokowi

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) meeting US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday. The two leaders had wide-ranging discussions on issues such as maritime security, counter-terrorism and climate change.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) meeting US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday. The two leaders had wide-ranging discussions on issues such as maritime security, counter-terrorism and climate change.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Decision hailed by US business leaders, although few details offered

Visiting President Joko Widodo announced in Washington on Monday that Indonesia intends to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even as observers continue to question if Jakarta can overcome the political obstacles in the way of the country acceding to the free trade pact.

The Indonesian leader, better known as Jokowi, offered few details as to how or when Jakarta would start taking action to join the TPP, but his message was generally well received in Washington.

"I take President Jokowi's intention seriously, but I have questions about whether Indonesia is going to be able to meet the standards to come into the TPP," said Mr Brian Harding of the Centre for American Progress.

Business leaders at a dinner hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce gave Mr Joko a rousing standing ovation when he stood to declare his country's interest in joining the 12-nation TPP.

"I saved a surprise for you today," he said in English at the dinner attended by representatives with significant investments in Indonesia like Chevron and Freeport-McMoRan. "I told President Obama and we announced today that Indonesia intends to join the TPP. So it has been a pretty good day so far."

MAKING IT EASIER TO DO BUSINESS

I was a businessman for 22 years. I don't like filling out forms. I don't like things to be complicated. I like things to be simple and efficient. I don't like to be bullied. I like to be treated fairly.

PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO, on Indonesia intending to free up its private sector from practices that have caused its companies to suffer

Mr Joko said Indonesia intended to free up its private sector from what he called "poorly conceived policies, excessive permitting and misguided protectionism" that had caused its companies to suffer.

"I was a businessman for 22 years. I don't like filling out forms. I don't like things to be complicated. I like things to be simple and efficient. I don't like to be bullied. I like to be treated fairly," he added.

His brief speech hit all the right notes for a community often frustrated by the red tape required to do business in Indonesia. Mr Joko also pledged to continue to push for deregulation, but pleaded for patience from foreign businesses. "Making things complicated is easy, making things simple is hard... If things seem to go slow, please bear with us. Economic reform takes time," he said.

Negotiators from the current 12 TPP countries only recently concluded talks on the deal. The agreement will now have to be passed by the respective domestic legislatures before coming into force. It is only then that the countries will consider adding new members.

Mr Joko's charm offensive at the dinner was a welcome change of pace on a day when he shocked some by cancelling a planned visit to meet technology company leaders in Silicon Valley, so he could rush home to attend to the haze problem.

Ahead of the President's maiden US visit, there had been concerns that his focus was too heavily trained on domestic issues. His decision to shorten an already brief trip seemed to only fuel the perception.

Earlier on Monday, he met President Barack Obama at the White House, where the two leaders had wide-ranging discussions on issues such as maritime security, counter- terrorism and climate change.

They reaffirmed the strong US-Indonesia strategic partnership and announced the establishment of a ministerial-level dialogue to be led by the US Secretary of State and Indonesia's Foreign Minister.

On climate change, the two countries agreed to work together on a host of challenges, including the ongoing peat fires that are causing the haze crisis in South-east Asia.

"Whether it's helping Indonesia deal with the current difficulties surrounding peat fires, or encouraging ongoing student exchanges between our two countries, this meeting I think signifies our taking this partnership to the next level," said Mr Obama, who also encouraged Indonesia to continue its reforms.

"I think that, Mr President, you are moving Indonesia in the right direction. We want to be a partner with you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Indonesia wants to join TPP trade pact, says Jokowi'. Print Edition | Subscribe