Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Trade data spat can be avoided in the future, Rini says

Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Minister of Industry and Trade Rini Soewandi said that wide discrepancies in trade statistics between Indonesia and Singapore should no longer occur in the future, due to harmonization of customs procedures.

She said that all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had agreed to adopt the eight-digit harmonization system codes (HS Code) in 2004.

The HS Code system allows goods to be classified and identified according to their specific types.

"Singapore will adopt the system as required by the ASEAN customs policy. Thus, discrepancies in trade statistics between the two countries can be avoided in the future," Rini told a media conference on Sunday at the end of a two-day meeting here of ASEAN economics ministers.

Singapore and Indonesia, along with Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, are members of the regional grouping.

Last month, Rini revealed to the local press a huge discrepancy in the bilateral trade figures, raising suspicions of rampant smuggling and underinvoicing. Rini also strongly complained about the unwillingness of Singapore to make public its trade figures with Indonesia. The Singapore government had many years supplied trade data to the Indonesian government, but on a confidential basis.

But in a bid to end the month-long trade data spat, Singapore Minister of Trade and Industry George Yeo sent a letter to Rini last week saying that his government would make public the bilateral trade statistics. He did not specify when publication would start.

Rini said on Sunday that as a member of the World Trade Organization, Singapore had an obligation to publish its trade statistics with all its trading partners, including Indonesia.

She explained that Singapore's refusal to publish its trade statistics with Indonesia was because it thought it was tied by an agreement made by the former rulers of both countries.

However, she said, the agreement was never made official, as there existed no written documents on it.

"I once tried to find the document, but it really does not exist. It was more a verbal agreement. The Singapore government regularly sends trade data to certain Indonesian officials confidentially," said Rini.

Meanwhile, at the media conference, Brunei's Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Abdul Rahman bin Dato Mohammad Taib said that during the meeting members of ASEAN agreed to cooperate in settling trade issues such as the rule of origin, customs procedures, a disputes settlement mechanism and standard and performance of goods and services.

Taib, who chaired the two-day meeting, explained that those issues had been considered as hampering implementation of the ASEAN free-trade area (AFTA) and would be discussed in more detail at the upcoming ASEAN summit meeting in Bali in October.