Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Government to establish trade negotiation team

Zakki P. Hakim, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

The government is establishing a team of international trade negotiators to prepare, coordinate and work for Indonesia's interests on multilateral, regional and bilateral levels of free- trade talks.

"We are preparing a presidential regulation draft on the national team for international trade negotiations with a new structure," Minister of Trade Mari E. Pangestu announced to the public on Thursday.

Currently, there is one national team, specifically for World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.

Mari said Indonesia needed a more integrated team since it was not only dealing with talks at the WTO, but also on the regional level, such as within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and with its dialog partners.

Moreover, she added, Indonesia would have more bilateral free trade agreement negotiations.

According to Mari, the national team would be constantly "on- guard" to monitor the development in the international trade talks and ensure Indonesia's interests were properly accommodated in various trade agreements.

She said the team would be headed by the trade minister, but there would also be an executive director responsible for daily activities such as preparing and coordinating negotiations as well as managing a strong secretariat to prepare materials for upcoming talks.

The executive director will be the trade minister's special expert staff for international trade.

According to the presidential regulation draft, the national team's board of advisors includes the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), former Indonesian Ambassador to the WTO and other international trade experts.

Mari said all related ministries were expected to have two dedicated officials on the team, and they would be involved in the negotiations from time to time.

On the multilateral level, Indonesia is constantly dealing with complex negotiations with the WTO. The talks include trade liberalization of farm products as well as industrial goods and services.

While in the regional forum, Indonesia not only has to be prepared for free trade talks within ASEAN, but in the grouping with its dialog partners such as China, Japan, India, South Korea, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand.

Indonesia has also started to pursue bilateral FTA talks with neighboring countries Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, each of which is more advanced in establishing FTAs with the region's major trade partners such as the United States and Japan.

International and local observers have said that Indonesia possess a strong position in international trade, but lacks domestic coordination and, particularly, an explicit blueprint for country, which make it unable to take full advantage of its position.

Having an "off-guard" stance in the international trade talks -- be it the WTO, regional or bilateral levels -- can create many problems, and result in Indonesia losing out on a lot of potential trade.