Mon, 17 Sep 2001

The essence of Megawati's U.U. visit

President Megawati Soekarnoputri's visit to the United States is of great importance to present the new posture of Indonesia's government to American leaders and the business community, says Tony Agus Ardie, who is also leading a business delegation to the U.S. He spoke to The Jakarta Post's senior editor Vincent Lingga, reflecting confidence in the American economic strength despite Tuesday's tragedy.

Question: How do you see the visit at this point in time?

Answer: It is undoubtedly quite an opportune time for both leaders to establish a good understanding and exchange views about ways of further strengthening bilateral ties. For Megawati herself, it is a great opportunity to learn first-hand about the U.S. foreign policy stance in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that President George W. Bush sees as an act of war against the U.S.

Many see the U.S. visit mostly as an economic mission. What is its relevance now that the American economy is in deep recession?

That is quite true, in view of the composition of Megawati's entourage and her itinerary. The economy should indeed be the primary objective, given the depth of our bilateral economic ties and Indonesia's hunger for foreign capital. The U.S. takes more than 25 percent of our exports, it's one of the largest foreign investors in Indonesia and commands a great influence both in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

I don't think the recent terrorist attacks will have any impact on American economic fundamentals. It will remain the largest source of technology and the greatest influence in the global financial market. What we see now are temporary panic reactions. Certainly the terrorist attacks will not help business confidence, especially now, when the U.S. economy is slumping after more than a decade of robust growth. But I am convinced this economic powerhouse will soon manage well.

What is the main objective of the business delegation you are leading in parallel with Megawati's visit?

More than 25 Indonesian businesspeople will visit the U.S. Most of them will take part in business meetings in Washington and New York where President Megawati and several economics ministers will also attend. Several delegates will also go to Houston to attend an Indonesian energy conference that is slated to be opened by Megawati herself.

However, the delegation of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) that I am heading, as chairman of Kadin's U.S. Committee, will concentrate on the development of relations between the small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) of both countries through a series of forums in Washington and New York. Don't forget that despite its reputation as the largest capitalist country, SMEs play a very important role in the U.S. economy.

Its small business development scheme is one of the best- managed under the Small Business Act. Indonesia has now been increasingly aware of the vital importance of SMEs after the collapse of most conglomerates in the 1997 crisis and could learn a great deal from the U.S. Besides meeting with businesspeople, we will also hold talks with Senator Christopher S. Bond, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small- and Medium-scale Businesses.

What do you expect from the business forums in the U.S.

Many tend to see business missions overseas at this time of crisis as a waste of money, especially now, when investors have practically deleted Indonesia from their business plan maps. On the contrary, such a mission is even more important now to establish personal contacts, and for networking.

As most foreign investors have stopped visiting Indonesia, they now rely mainly on mass media stories or reports by analysts. The problem is that after the crisis analysts now tend to be inordinately pessimistic about our country, often predicting a doomsday scenario.

But the business meetings that will also present economics ministers as resource persons will be a greatly effective forum for providing the right perspective on Indonesia's problems and future outlook.

The meetings will also be a great opportunity for our ministers and senior officials to straighten out many controversial issues regarding the imbroglios that have of late entangled a number of foreign investors in Indonesia.

Both the officials and Indonesian business delegates could enlighten their American counterparts on the right perspective of the problems Indonesia is now encountering, notably in the transition from centralized government to regional autonomy.

They could honestly and proportionally explain what the government is doing to handle the temporary euphoric reactions in many provinces, what the future outlook really is and what the government is doing and will continue to pursue regarding law enforcement and other matters of the greatest concern to investors. (Vincent Lingga)