Tue, 16 Sep 2003

Local business leaders, activists cheer failure of WTO talks

The World Trade Organization's latest round of talks in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed on Sunday over sharp differences between poor and rich countries. Here is what some local business leaders and experts had to say about the failure of the talks:

Aburizal Bakrie, chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Well, I'm grateful that the talks ended in a deadlock. Our negotiators did a good job. Indonesia is among the countries that will gain from this result. It is a victory for us.

Why? Because our agriculture sector would have been badly affected if the talks led to the liberalization of global trade.

Eliminating protection for our strategic commodities (soybeans, corn, rice and sugar) would be the same as shutting down employment opportunities for millions of people.

Our farmers cannot compete with their overseas counterparts even in the home market, because the latter can sell their products at cheaper prices. The flood of cheaper imported agricultural commodities will gradually undermine and kill our farmers.

We need to defend our farmers since most of our employment opportunities are in the agricultural sector.

So the failure of the WTO talk is a positive outcome for Indonesian businesspeople.

Bonnie Setiawan, executive director of the non-governmental organization Institute for Global Justice

We are happy and celebrating here (upon hearing that the WTO talks had collapsed).

The opportunity for developed countries to force us to liberalize our economy, especially those sectors included in the Singapore talks like investment, has collapsed.

This also shows that developing countries have the strength to refuse proposals from the European Union and the United States.

I applaud the Indonesian delegation's decision to join the G23 (Group of 23, consisting of developing countries led by China, India and Brazil). It shows that Indonesia is actively participating in supporting the interests of developing countries.

In my opinion, we were not an active country before. For example, the Indonesian delegation was not active at the Doha talks (in 2001).

I'm going to be interviewed by TVRI (state-owned television station) tonight, along with Gusmardi Bustami (Indonesian representative to the WTO in Geneva). I will salute him and the Indonesian delegation.

I also salute Ibu Rini (Minister of Industry and Trade Rini M.S. Soewandi). I heard that she performed well (at the Cancun talks).

Thomas Dharmawan, chairman of the Indonesian Food and Beverages Association

The failure or success of the WTO talks does not mean much to us because, overall, we are not ready for anything. Winning or loosing at the trade talks is the same for businesses.

There are so many problems at home, like illegal fees and an inefficient bureaucracy. The government should overcome these problems before stepping further into trade talks at the WTO. They should focus more on how to increase the competitiveness of our products aboard.

Any attempts at protectionism by the government, say subjecting U.S. soybeans and corn to 160 percent import taxes, will not do any good since there is an insufficient supply of these products at home anyway (about 70 percent of soybeans in Indonesia are imported because local supply cannot meet demand).

In the end, protectionism will boomerang on us because it will cause an increase in the prices of products.

I think the government should help our farmers first to ensure a sufficient supply of strategic commodities needed at home before talking at a WTO forum.

Gadjah Mada University (in Yogyakarta) economist Sri Adiningsih

For Indonesia, generally, the failure of the WTO talks will not have a significant impact because the WTO's schedule is still far from being implemented. Moreover, for developing countries like Indonesia, WTO agreements are not as binding.

AFTA (the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Agreement) has a much more significant impact on Indonesia.

One thing for sure, however, the failure (of the talks) will benefit us because this means we'll have more time to prepare before joining the (global) liberalization drive. But, once again, don't forget we have already entered AFTA. Even though we have seen delays in the WTO, we haven't in AFTA. Although there has not been any progress in the WTO, Indonesia cannot back off.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has to possess broad knowledge before it jumps into any international talks.