PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob leaves for his maiden overseas trip as premier on Tuesday (Nov 9) for a three-day official visit to Indonesia, where he will meet President Joko Widodo.
The two leaders will explore opportunities for cooperation in recovery efforts from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, national news agency Bernama reported.
"The issues that will be touched on are in the field of investment and trade, the issue of discrimination against palm oil, maritime boundary restrictions, and the joint listing of Unesco cultural heritage," Bernama quoted the charge d'affaires of the Malaysian Embassy in Indonesia, Mr Adlan Mohd Shaffieq, as saying.
Datuk Seri Ismail will be the third Malaysian prime minister to meet the Indonesian leader since several government changes in the last three years.
Mr Widodo, more popularly known as Jokowi, had met former premiers Mahathir Mohamad in June 2018 and Muhyiddin Yassin in February this year.
It is an Asean tradition for leaders to make quick introductory visits within the region upon assuming office.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has affected and limited such travel, and even when leaders make these visits now, it would be after some time of assuming office.
Since last year, most regional meetings - including the recently concluded annual Asean summit chaired by Brunei - have been held virtually.
This trip, although introductory, is important because bilateral relations between Malaysia and Indonesia are strong despite some "speed bumps".
The pandemic has slowed down engagement, but visits at the ministerial and government official levels have kicked off again to get things moving.
It is understood that Mr Ismail's visit will see the signing of two memorandums of understanding (MOUs) involving education and Customs. However, no details were available as at press time.
There are many outstanding bilateral issues, ranging from Indonesian domestic workers and foreign labour to borders.
"There are many issues with Indonesia; they are more or less the same issues. It is also how we manage these issues with Indonesia," said a Malaysian government official, who declined to be named.
When the leaders meet in Bogor on Wednesday, they are expected to talk about increasing bilateral trade.
Mr Ismail, during a visit to Sandakan last Friday, indicated that he would also raise the development at the Sabah-Kalimantan border with Mr Widodo.
Other issues would possibly be on pending MOUs, one on Indonesian labour and another on domestic helpers.
The Malaysian demand for Indonesian maids is still high, but discussions are ongoing to finalise the MOU. Indonesia has requested that its domestic helpers be employed under the "one maid, one task" system.
"While the Indonesian government is looking into ensuring its citizens are well-protected, including getting proper salaries and one day off every week, we have a problem with the 'one maid, one task' system because it raises questions, like if one household has three children, do the maids just focus on the children?
"Perhaps they can also help in keeping the house clean. That is being discussed," said the official.
Mr Ismail is also scheduled to meet Indonesian captains of industry after his meeting with Mr Widodo.
Another official noted Malaysia's proposal for mutual recognition of both countries' Covid-19 vaccination certificates, and that the Prime Minister has spoken about opening up the borders to ramp up trade and economy.
"It will be good for him to interact and engage with the business community as Malaysia is also interested in the new capital in Kalimantan," the official added.
It has been reported that Indonesia is moving ahead with the plan to relocate its capital to Kalimantan in the first half of 2024.
Malaysia is also "nudging" Indonesia to hold the next annual leaders' consultation. The meeting was last held in 2019, when Tun Dr Mahathir hosted Mr Widodo.
But it will be busy times for Jakarta as it has just assumed chairmanship of the Group of 20, a multilateral forum bringing together the world's major economies and the European Union.
Its members account for more than 60 per cent of the world population, 75 per cent of global trade and 80 per cent of the world's gross domestic product.
According to a World Bank report, Indonesia is the world's fourth-most populous nation and 10th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.