Performance of Indonesian envoys to be judged by their ability to boost exports

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said ambassadors should allocate up to two-thirds or 70 to 80 per cent of their energy and efforts on economic diplomacy and the remainder to promote peace and sovereignty. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - In an effort to bolster the economy, President Joko Widodo on Thursday (Jan 9) said that the performance of Indonesian envoys overseas must be measured by the amount of exports sent to the countries assigned to them.

Mr Joko, popularly called Jokowi at home, stressed that ambassadors needed to map out export opportunities, gather market intelligence and identify problems that must be promptly reported to Jakarta to be followed up and addressed quickly by local bureaucrats.

In a speech at a forum attended by Indonesian envoys, senior diplomats and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Mr Joko said: "I hereby ask the Foreign Minister to formulate a clear and measured KPI (key performance indicators) on the ambassadors' performance so we know who is performing, who is not and therefore know who needs to be replaced."

"We won't progress if we apply a business-as-usual approach," he added.

Mr Joko also said it was time for Indonesia to look at other regions as export markets instead of just concentrating on its traditional partners such as the US, the European Union and China.

He singled out countries in Africa, South Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

"There are many Indonesian products today whose quality exceeds that from China and it is the task of the ambassadors to help promote them," Mr Joko told the gathering.

He said the ambassadors should allocate up to two-thirds or 70 to 80 per cent of their energy and efforts on economic diplomacy and the remainder to promote peace and sovereignty.

Indonesia has registered annual economic growth of around 5 per cent in the past 15 years, and annual inflation has been brought down consistently to below 4 per cent in the past five years, from above 8 per cent in 2013 and 2014.

Indonesian diplomats must be able to trumpet these two main achievements that highlight the country's economic stability, other than just its current political stability, Mr Joko said.

Easing red tape and boosting foreign investment and exports are the top priorities for Mr Joko, who was re-elected for a second and final five-year term in April 2019. Indonesia has been trying to tackle a widening current account deficit amid a global economic slowdown. The deficit reached US$31.1 billion (S$42 billion) in 2018.

During a meeting last September with his ministers, Mr Joko noted that manufacturing plants were moving out of China to circumvent tariffs imposed by the US on Chinese goods amid a trade war between the two countries. None of the plants were re-located in Indonesia.

Instead, they went to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand because of their less bureaucratic regime and more favourable regulations, the President noted.

Citing a World Bank report, Mr Joko said that between June and August 2019, 33 Chinese companies announced plans to set up or expand their facilities abroad; 23 said they were going to Vietnam and the rest to Malaysia, Thailand, India, Cambodia, Mexico and Serbia.

He then ordered his ministers to identify burdensome regulations, pledging that his administration would streamline the rules as the country needed to prepare for the possibility of a deteriorating global economy.

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