Australia's minister says translation glitches delay trade deal with Indonesia

Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham (left) downplayed friction with Indonesia over Australia's possible Jerusalem embassy. Prime Minister Scott Morrison floated the idea of moving the embassy earlier this year.
Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham (left) downplayed friction with Indonesia over Australia's possible Jerusalem embassy. Prime Minister Scott Morrison floated the idea of moving the embassy earlier this year.PHOTO: EPA

MELBOURNE (Reuters, Bloomberg) - Australia's trade minister said translation issues were behind the delay of a billion-dollar free trade agreement with Indonesia, downplaying a friction between the countries over Australia's possible Jerusalem embassy.

"There were some translation issues still being dealt with last week," Simon Birmingham told Australia's ABC TV.

"We will get all of those finalised and then when it suits both countries, we'll get on and get it signed," he said, adding that he hopes the accord will be signed in "the coming months".

The deal, which is intended to boost trade in areas ranging from crafts to cattle, was concluded in August and has been expected to be signed by the end of the year.

But Indonesia has said that Australia's recent proposal that it might move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem might upset plans for the accord.

Indonesia is the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, where tens of thousands protested against US President Donald Trump's decision in May to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Australia “won’t be dictated to” in foreign policy, Birmingham said on ABC TV’s Insiders programme on Sunday. 

Australia and Indonesia in August concluded talks that began in 2010 on a free-trade deal. In 2017, two-way trade of goods between the nations was A$11.2 billion, making Indonesia Australia’s 14th-largest trading partner.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Nov 12 that there’s “no hurry” to sign the deal despite negotiations being concluded and earlier indications the pact would be officially announced this year.

Morrison floated the idea of moving the Australian embassy and recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital in October, sparking a war of words also with Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the population is Muslim.

 
 
 

Morrison's announcement came just before a key by-election in a seat which happened to have a large Jewish community, but the seat was lost anyway, leaving Morrison's government ruling with the cooperation of independent lawmakers.

Birmingham said Australia does not "conflate" the issue of the embassy and the economic partnership accord.

"We understand the concerns that Indonesia has in relation to the embassy issue as a quite separate matter and of course Australia will make our foreign policy decision based purely on Australia's national interests," Birmingham said.

He added that Australia will make its decision on the embassy location taking into consideration "all of the implications", including security and economic.

"We won't be bullied into a decision by any other nation."

The decision on the location of Australia's embassy in Israel is expected by Christmas.

 Trade War

Birmingham also criticised U.S. trade tariffs. “All of those protectionist instincts, all of those increases in the tariffs are of course a potential dampener to global economic growth and that has repercussions to us and every other country,” said Birmingham.

The Australian trade minister also addressed concern about the country’s trade position vis-a-vis the UK, which is struggling to implement a referendum that called for its withdrawal from the European Union.

“We have been replicating text from some of our market access agreement with the EU, so that if need be, we can bring those into effect with the U.K. quite quickly should there be an abrupt, perhaps no-deal Brexit,” said Birmingham.

“Equally, we will deal with whatever scenario if trade policy for the U.K. is to be determined still in Brussels rather than London, where our EU trade negotiations will take care of it. ”