Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Czech Republic to boost economic ties with RI

Veeramalla Anjaiah, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

Czech Republic, a small Central European state, wants to improve upon its existing economic relations with Indonesia, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said in Jakarta on Thursday.

"Our relations with Indonesia are excellent. We don't have any problematic aspects in our bilateral ties. We want to give a new impetus to boost our economic ties because they do not reflect both countries' potential," Minister Svoboda told The Jakarta Post on Thursday in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-European Union (EU) Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta.

Indonesia exported roughly some US$120 million worth of goods to the Czech Republic and its imports reached around $20 million in 2004. Though the bilateral trade has been increasing from year to year, there is great potential for the countries in economic terms. For example, the total value of the bilateral trade in 1993 was just $30 million but jumped to $135 million in 2003.

Svoboda, whose country joined the EU in 2004, arrived on Wednesday night in Jakarta on a three-day visit. During his visit to Indonesia, besides attending the ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting on Thursday, Svoboda held bilateral talks with his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda and visited tsunami-affected areas in Aceh province along with Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab on Friday.

During his talks with Hassan, Svoboda raised the issue of issuing visas to Czech citizens arriving in Indonesia at the airports as part of the new drive to boost economic ties.

"We will appreciate it, if it is possible to extend the visa on arrival facility (VOA) to our citizens arriving in Indonesia. This will encourage our Czech businessmen, investors and tourists to visit your country," said Svoboda, who invited Hassan to visit the Czech Republic, while referring to his request to Hassan.

At present, Czech citizens must apply for a visa at the Indonesian Embassy in Prague.

Asked about the possible areas in which the two governments could concentrate on, Svoboda said his government had already been concentrating areas such as the automotive sector, cooperation in military supplies, the environment and agriculture.

"Frankly speaking, we do not concentrate on one particular area, but all the possible potential areas in order to enhance our cooperation," the 49-year-old minister, who has a law degree, said.

As a new member of the EU, the world's richest regional organization, the Czech Republic wants to increase its exports to EU markets as well as markets in other parts of the world.

"Asia is very important for us. Our Czech companies must export more to the EU markets. But it is also very important for them to be successful in other markets like China and Indonesia," Svoboda said.

Svoboda, who played a pivotal role in the his country's accession to the EU, also said he appreciated the ongoing democratic process in Indonesia.

"Geographically we are distant but the democratic process in both countries brings us closer," the veteran politician explained.

Svoboda met with Alwi on Friday in Medan, and his entourage visited the tsunami-affected areas in Aceh and distributed humanitarian aid to local officials.

The Czech Republic was very active in providing humanitarian assistance to tsunami-affected countries, he explained.

"Our government has so far provided 200 million Czech crowns (around US$10 million) and our citizens raised another 210 million crowns," Svoboda said.

While responding to a question whether Prague would increase its contribution to Indonesia, Svoboda said his government was still waiting for Indonesia's reconstruction plan.

"If there is a request, we can respond in a positive manner. And we will take reconstruction issues on a long-term basis," the minister said.

The Czech Ambassador to Indonesia, Jaroslav Vesely said his country had sent five plane-loads of humanitarian assistance consisting of food, medicine, water purification equipment, medical and school equipment to Indonesia.