Thu, 25 Aug 1994

RI-Australia infrastructure ties boosted

JAKARTA (JP): Australia and Indonesia agreed yesterday to initiate a tangible program to boost infrastructure development which would support national economic growth and regional cooperation.

At the closing of the Second Australia-Indonesia Ministerial Forum in Canberra yesterday, ministers from the two countries agreed that, considering the important role of infrastructure, a Working Group to oversee its development would be established.

In a joint statement, a copy of which was made available to The Jakarta Post, the ministers said that the Working Group on Infrastructure would "identify new opportunities and stimulate new activity in a range of infrastructure sectors."

During the two-day meeting, the ministers also touched on the likelihood of combining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations (CER).

The ministerial forum was initiated in 1992 by Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating and Indonesian President Soeharto during the inaugural meeting in Jakarta.


The Australian delegation, led by Minister for Foreign Affairs Gareth Evans, comprises no less than nine government ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Peter Cook and Minister for Primary Industries and Energy Bob Collins.

Coordinating Minister for Industry and Trade Hartarto chaired the Indonesian delegation, which included Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas, Minister of Trade Satrio Budiardjo Joedono and Minister of Agriculture Sjarifudin Baharsjah.

Elaborating on infrastructure development, the ministers said they agreed that the exact sectors would be identified by the relevant departments of the two countries but private participation was crucial.

In their statement, the ministers urged the quick and active participation of the private sector to ensure the opportunities in the development of infrastructure become concrete, commercial outcomes.

The role of the private sector was further highlighted when their participation was identified as "vital" in producing substantive results to the range of trade and economic programs undertaken by the Ministerial Forum.

Expounding further on other potential areas of bilateral cooperation, the ministers revealed three electric power projects here which would be taken up as a matter of priority by the Indonesian National Development Planning Board (Bappenas).

Those projects are transmission and substations in South Kalimantan and West Sumatra, development of electrical distribution infrastructure in Sumatra and the development of a transmission project in East Kalimantan.

Though the general atmosphere of the meeting were described as positive with discussions taking place in a constructive and practical approach, Indonesia did raise concern over Australian anti-dumping acts which adverse Indonesian exporters.

Indonesia also expressed its concern at Australia's removal of the Developing Country Preferences (DCP) as well as the high levels of import duties on footwear, textiles and clothing.


Turning to a wider subject, the forum seriously discussed the prospect of linking AFTA and the CER.

Both AFTA and the CER are institutions which seek to promote free trade between their respective members.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Though still in its exploratory stage, nevertheless the ministers agreed "an AFTA-CER link merited further serious consideration."

The ministers felt that, in general, the Asia-Pacific region was in a fluid situation and, therefore, they stressed the importance of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in fostering mutual confidence amongst countries.

The ARF is a regional dialog sponsored by ASEAN which involves several Asia-Pacific countries including the United States, Australia and Japan.


The amiable mood that had existed throughout the meeting was interrupted when Alatas complained about the harassment that Indonesian embassy and consulate staff were being subjected to.

Embassy and consulate staff are often exposed to various attacks by anti-Indonesian groups opposing the integration of East Timor into the Republic of Indonesia.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Gareth Evans brought up the issue of East Timor calling for greater autonomy and a withdrawal of troops in Indonesia's youngest province.

As reported by AFP, a clearly angry Alatas revealed yesterday that he had urged his counterpart to insure the protection of Indonesian staff there against such attacks.

"These don't happen in other countries because, while freedom of expression is fully honored, there are ways of arranging things, channeling things," Alatas criticized.(mds)