Australia’s prime minister said Monday that he was looking forward to discussing a free-trade deal with Indonesia while attending a regional forum in Jakarta. Malcom Turnbull on Tuesday will attend the first Indian Ocean Rim Association leaders’ summit in the 20-year history of the 21-nation organization. Turnbull’s one-day visit to Jakarta comes nine days after Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ended his first Australian visit as Indonesia’s president.
The leaders used that Sydney visit to commit to finalizing a bilateral free-trade agreement this year after 17 years of negotiations. Jokowi said the deal must remove all Australian barriers to the importation of Indonesian palm oil and paper. Turnbull has welcomed trade concessions that Indonesia has already made, including reduced tariffs on Australian sugar and fewer restrictions on Australian live cattle imports.
“We’re making very good progress there and I look forward to discussing it further when I’m in Jakarta tomorrow,” Turnbull told reporters in the Australian city of Melbourne. Indonesian trade official Thomas Lembong, chairman of Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board, told Australia’s Fairfax Media that his government wanted to see “concrete proof of unfettered and natural trade” in Indonesia palm oil, paper and wood products.
David Brewster, an Australian National University researcher on Indian Ocean security, said he expected Turnbull would be one of the few national leaders to attend the summit that will be chaired by Jokowi. “His attendance at the meeting is probably primarily driven by the Jakarta relationship, wanting to show solidarity with Jokowi,” Brewster said.
Turnbull later said in a statement that Australia had a fundamental interest in ensuring economic development in the Indian Ocean region and enhancing dialogue on shared security challenges. The summit will agree to a statement on shared values and objectives, including a commitment to international law, and a declaration on countering violent extremism.
Australian interest in the grouping of predominantly developing states on the Indian Ocean fringe has deepened in the past five years, with the economic growth of India and China and a relative decline in influence in the region of the United States, Australia’s most important strategic partner, Brewster said. India is a member of the group while China has observer status.